The Merry, Merry Men Go Free
With the jailing of Mr Ronald Li Fook Shiu and his Appeal against conviction, having failed on April 18, 1991, it appeared that the very heart of him had been wrenched out of his billion-dollar chest.
At the arraignment of his second trial, held on July 13, 1991, about 3 months after losing his battle against the first conviction, he pleaded guilty to 2 more charges of accepting an advantage as an agent.
Mr Justice Mortimer, on noting the guilty plea, decided that he would sentence him at the conclusion of the trial since Mr Ronald Li Fook Shiu was just one of 7 defendants in this case.
The main case against all of the 7 Defendants was scheduled to begin in October 1991, still 3 months away.
One may only speculate as to the state of mind of Mr Ronald Li Fook Shiu when he stood in front of Mr Justice Mortimer on that July morning.
The charges against Mr Ronald Li Fook Shiu were that, between August 1, 1987, and the end of that month, without lawful authority or reasonable excuse, he accepted preferential allocations of shares in publicly listed Hysan Development Company Ltd and Oriental Press Group Ltd as an inducement or reward for supporting or not opposing the listing of and permission to deal in shares in the 2 companies on The Stock Exchange of Hongkong Ltd.
The Crown and Mr Ronald Li Fook Shiu had come to an understanding, prior to his appearance in the High Court.
But the other Defendants did not want any part of the Ronald Li Fook Shiu admissions, and stood firmly to their pleas of innocence.
The July 12, 1991, arraignment lasted one hour – and it was all over.
The 62-year-old, Mr Ronald Li Fook Shiu was, at this time, ready to accept that his 4-year prison sentence, following Mr Justice Bokhary’s determination in the first trial, was about to be increased by Mr Justice Mortimer due to his guilty plea.
Mr Ronald Li Fook Shiu, the man who, for 22 years, had helped to bring Hongkong out from under the overpowering colonial cloak of The (old) Hongkong Stock Exchange, and to liberate investors from the grips of people, such as the late Messrs Noel Croucher and Alex Hutton-Potts, both former Chairmen of The Hongkong Stock Exchange, the man who had had visions of being knighted by the Queen for his services to Hongkong, was, clearly, a shadow of his former self.
Fate had played the cards in the Hongkong Government’s game of 1991, but Mr Ronald Li Fook Shiu did not realise – or refused to accept – that the legal rules of 1971, those in which he had had a constructive hand in establishing, had been changed by the 1990s.
And, he had been unable – or unwilling – to adapt in accordance with society’s requirements of him.
Sullen and broken, as he stood resolute in front of Mr Justice Mortimer, Mr Ronald Li Fook Shiu was willing to accept whatever cards were about to be dealt to him by a legal system in which he had had, indirectly, such a large part in fashioning.
While Mr Ronald Li Fook Shiu appeared to have given up, not so his once, merry band of followers.
The 6, former executives of The Stock Exchange of Hongkong Ltd, all multi-millionaires in any currency that one would wish to choose, now, were not in the least bit amused at seeing their former, vivacious leader in this pitiful condition, unwilling to fight the good fight.
As far as The Independent Commission Against Corruption was concerned, with the fall from grace of Mr Ronald Li Fook Shiu, following his capitulation at the hands of their able investigators and the Hongkong Government’s prosecutors, it was champagne-and-caviare time.
But The Independent Commission Against Corruption had not counted on that which followed: To the surprise of nearly everybody, the other 6 Defendants were all found not guilty after a lengthy trial, much to the consternation of Mr Ronald Li Fook Shiu.
The reason for the Crown’s failure to prove its case against the other Defendants was because of a change in the attitude in Hongkong with regard to the onus of proof.
This was due to a June 1991 decision in the Hongkong Court of Appeals, a determination which ruled that it was for the Crown to prove the guilt of an accused, not for an accused to prove his innocence.
Certain sections of The Prevention of Bribery Ordinance – Chapter 201 of The Laws of Hongkong – made it mandatory, prior to this landmark determination, for an accused to prove his innocence rather than the Crown to prove his guilt, with the Commissioner of The Independent Commission Against Corruption only needing to prove that an accused had assets in his possession, the market value of which was disproportionate to his income from the primary known source.
If an accused could not prove to the satisfaction of the Commissioner that he had not obtained his assets in a manner, deemed to be corrupt, then, the presumption of guilt was made.
The other 6 Defendants had all pleaded not guilty to charges of accepting advantages in respect of preferential treatment in share placements and/or soliciting such in 1987.
There was one Defendant, however, who was different from all the others with regard to the common charges.
He was Mr Alfred Li Kwok Lung, the son of Mr Ronald Li Fook Shiu, a solicitor in good standing in Hongkong.
He had been charged with aiding and abetting, counselling and/or procuring his father and the other Defendants to accept preferential allocations of shares in Pacific Concord Holding Ltd as an inducement to or reward for supporting, or not opposing its listing and permission to deal in its shares on The Stock Exchange of Hongkong Ltd.
As with the other Defendants, Mr Alfred Li Kwok Lung pleaded not guilty to those charges.
A total of 50 witnesses had been prepared to prove the Crown’s case against the 7 Defendants in a trial which was scheduled to last about 4 months.
The trial opened on October 23, 1991, and lasted a total of 139 working days, that is until June 23, 1992.
For 4 nights and 5 days, the jury considered all the facts of the case and, then, at about 2:30 p.m. on June 24, the jury returned a ‘not guilty’ verdict.
If the trial had ended one month earlier, it was speculated that the decision would have been very different.
While Mr Justice Mortimer was instructing the jury in his summation, counsel for the defence reminded the learned Justice of the recent decision of the Hongkong Court of Appeals in respect of The Bill of Rights Ordinance.
Mr Justice Mortimer did an immediate about-face … the rest is legal history.
But the trial had taken its toll of all of the accused.
This was only too noticeable in the colour of the hair of Mr Jeffrey Sun Hon Kuen, once the Chief Executive Officer of The Stock Exchange of Hongkong Ltd: His hair, by the conclusion of the ordeal, had turned to pure white – that which was left of it, that is.
Mr Jeffrey Sun Hon Kuen had been about to leave for Canada on retirement just before his arrest so that the entire case had been, for him, an unbelievable, terrible nightmare.
For Mr Kenneth Wong Kai Ming, the former Vice Chairman of The Stock Exchange of Hongkong Ltd, this once, rotund-looking gentleman of about 5 feet 3 inches, had a leaner look to him due in part, if not in whole, to his physical health which had deteriorated as a direct result of the ordeal.
He had had surgery for a bleeding stomach ulcer and had spent time in intensive care in hospital.
At the door of The Mandarin Hotel, one afternoon at the height of the trial, I approached Mr Kenneth Wong Kai Ming and invited him for a cup of tea and a talk.
He said: ‘I’m not in the mood for anything, these days. This trial … it’s just too much.’
It was the last time that he talked to me, directly, and without a solicitor in tow.
On hearing the verdict, he told the world that that the 5-year ordeal was over:
‘I don’t want to blame anyone. I believe in fate: If it wants me to suffer, I suffer.
‘All the time, I’ve believed I was innocent; and, I just hoped that justice would prevail.’
But it was not a clear-cut victory for all of the accused since, just one night before the jury’s decision, it was clear that some members of the jury could not agree in respect of some of the charges with regard to 3 of the Defendants.
Mr Justice Mortimer interceded and discharged the jury of 7 men and 2 women from the onerous duty in this regard.
On hearing the uproar in the Court when Mr Justice Mortimer read out the verdict, Mr Ronald Li Fook Shiu, surrounded by prison guards as he sat, watching the rejoicing of his merry men, must have been struck by this horrible twist of fate.
The situation must have been akin to a deaf-and-dumb man, after biting into a terribly bitter lemon, not being able to describe his anguish.
Mr Ronald Li Fook Shiu had pleaded guilty on July 12, 1991, about 11 months earlier, clearly in order to lessen the custodial sentence which Mr Justice Mortimer, he reasoned, would have to levy on his person.
It would be logical to assume, from his point of view, that, as a result of his not trying to defend the corruption charges, the Crown would be more sympathetically inclined to be lenient to this man who had lost so much in terms of his position in the Hongkong business community.
Now, due to a timely determination at the Hongkong Court of Appeals, he suddenly realised that there had been no reason for him to plead guilty because the Crown did not have a prima facie case, in any event.
At 63 years old, gaunt and having aged, visibly, during his ordeal in prison, he asked if he could reverse his guilty plea of July 12, 1991.
The Crown did not object to the Application; Mr Justice Mortimer acquitted Mr Ronald Li Fook Shiu on all counts.
In June 1993, Mr Ronald Li Fook Shiu was released from Stanley Prison, having spent a total of 973 days in custody.
For about 2 years and 8 months, Mr Ronald Li Fook Shiu, having accumulated a vast fortune over the period from 1969 to 1989, had to endure a life with people whom, under normal circumstances, he would not have even given a second look.
He never, really, recovered from his ordeal – but, with more than $HK8 billion in the bank, there was some solace.