Hong Kong court fines former TVB manager Stephen Chan HKD 84,000

As reported in our previous monthly e-bulletins, this high-profile case has seen two trials, two appeals and numerous interlocutory applications. Finally, on 18 December 2015, Stephen Chan and his assistant were formally convicted of conspiracy to accept an advantage and fined HKD 84,000 and HKD 28,000 respectively.

The bribery convictions concern a payment of HKD 112,000 Chan received without informing his then employer, TVB, while hosting his talk show Be My Guest at Olympian City on New Year’s Eve 2009. The payment was alleged to have been made through a third party company run by Chan's assistant. The case turned on whether Chan had permission from TVB to receive the payment. Chan was tried and acquitted twice by the same judge in the District Court on the basis that he had a "reasonable excuse", namely that TVB had "silently agreed".

After the second trial, the prosecution applied to reopen the case again. They argued that the trial judge had erred in finding a "reasonable excuse" without objective evidence. The Court of Appeal unanimously agreed and found Chan and his assistant guilty on a joint charge of conspiracy to accept an advantage, contrary to section 9 of the Prevention of Bribery Ordinance. The court's judgment highlights the narrow application of the "reasonable excuse" defence under Hong Kong law.

For more background on this case, see our e-bulletin dated 28 October.

Court of Appeal increases prison terms to be served by senior executives guilty of bribery

On 17 December, two former senior executives of a listed company and an accountant were ordered by the Court of Appeal (CA) to serve one year to three years more in jail for bribery and fraud in the acquisition of a plantation project for HKD 500 million.

The former president of China Environmental Resources Group Limited (formerly known as Benefun) and sole owner of Blackpool Stadium Limited (Blackpool), whose subsidiary, Ample Rich, owned the plantation project, had his jail term increased from five years to seven years and nine months. The former executive director and company secretary of Benefun, and its certified public accountant, had their jail terms of three years increased to six years and four years respectively.

The CA ruled that the original jail sentences imposed on the defendants were manifestly inadequate. The offences involved conspiracy to offer and take advantages in the form of promissory notes and payments to influence the acquisition by Benefun of Ample Rich. The scheme was set out in a written agreement which defrauded the Hong Kong Stock Exchange, Benefun, its shareholders and investors.

Increasing number of Hong Kong firms seek advice from ICAC regarding investing in mainland China

The Independent Commission Against Corruption (ICAC) has seen a sharp uptick in the number of requests for advice from local enterprises operating in mainland China. The ICAC announced that an increasing number of local companies are seeking bespoke advice and codes of conduct on dealing with corruption in China. This is no doubt in response to China's ongoing clampdown on corruption, and the uncertainties surrounding acceptable practices and conduct.

ICAC highlights Hong Kong's standing in latest World Economic Forum (WEF) report

The ICAC has highlighted WEF’s Global Competitiveness Report 2015-2016, which reveals that a very insignificant number (0.2 per cent) of respondents considered corruption the “most problematic factor” when doing business in Hong Kong. Coupled with 15 other factors, the report considers Hong Kong to be the seventh most competitive place amongst 140 economies polled.