Egan wins appeal on ICAC witness tampering count

Updated: 2009-02-13 07:32

By Teddy Ng(HK Edition)

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HONG KONG: The appeal court has overturned the conviction and 30-month jail term of prominent criminal barrister and former government prosecutor Kevin Egan.

Egan had been convicted by the lower courts in a high profile witness tampering case that culminated in an intensive search of the offices of seven newspapers by the anti-graft watchdog. Egan was sentenced in 2006 for disclosing the identity of a protected witness for the Independent Commission Against Corruption (ICAC) to a South China Morning Post reporter. The barrister said he is satisfied with the Appeal Court ruling.

"(I am) fine," he said outside the court, without further comment.

Egan was convicted under Hong Kong's witness protection laws which prohibit disclosure of the identities of people in the witness protection program.

The saga began as the ICAC pursued its investigation of former Semtech International Holdings chairman Derek Wong. Wong eventually was convicted of offering bribes to help boost Semtech's share price. However he fled the SAR and remains at large. Wong's secretary Becky Wong agreed to co-operate with the ICAC and enter the witness protection scheme.

The woman's identity however was disclosed by several newspapers. An angry furor over press freedom erupted after the ICAC raided and searched the offices of the seven papers.

The ICAC later arrested Egan.

Two Appeal Court judges, Justice Geoffrey Ma and Justice Robert Tang, ruled in favor of Egan's petition. Justice Alan Wright dissented.

Justice Tang in his judgment said that it cannot be proved that Egan disclosed the fact that Becky Wong was in the witness protection program, or that Egan intended to disclose the fact.

The appeal court, in its majority ruling, found that Egan merely acted on instruction from his client. That is, he applied for relief of ICAC's unlawful detention of Becky Wong, notwithstanding her voluntary cooperation with the agency's investigation.

The appeal court upheld jail sentences mandated for solicitor Andrew Lam, Derek Wong and his girlfriend Mandy Chui for disclosing Becky Wong's identity to the media. The three were convicted in lower court of conspiracy to pervert the course of Justice by making false representation that Becky Wong was detained unlawfully by ICAC.

The court found that Law, former ICAC senior investigator, was involved in every stage of the conspiracy and described him as "calling the shots behind the scenes". Lam was sentenced to four years in prison.

Derek Wong and Chui were sentenced to three years and 30 months imprisonment, respectively, for conspiracy to pervert the course of justice.

(HK Edition 02/13/2009 page1)