Two Hong Kong taxi drivers and a hospital receptionist have been jailed for up to 11 months each for bribery in the information technology constituency of the Legislative Council polls in 2016.
Magistrate Peony Wong Nga-yan said the court must emphasise the importance of fair elections and impose a deterrent sentence in this serious case of corruption, which she believed was “orchestrated by someone behind the scenes”, given the detailed planning and multifarious procedures involved in its execution.
“Immediate imprisonment was inevitable,” she said.
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West Kowloon Court heard Li Lam-cheong, who sat on the executive committee of the Taxi Drivers and Operators Association, offered HK$1,000 (US$129) each to fellow driver Chan Chun-shing and his wife, two daughters as well as one of their boyfriends, for their personal data that was subsequently used for applying for membership to a professional body, which would make them voters of the IT sector.
The family accepted the money, registered with the Hong Kong chapter of the Institute of Electrical and Electronics Engineers (IEEE) – despite lacking the necessary qualifications – and was then asked to vote for tech executive Eric Yeung Chuen-sing, who was seeking to represent the functional constituency of more than 12,000 voters.
Li and three family members of Chan subsequently voted for Yeung, but the candidate was ultimately defeated by his only rival, Charles Mok of the Professionals Guild group, who won 6,253 votes in the elections held on September 4, 2016.
Media reports later exposed irregularities in the constituency’s voter registration and complaints were lodged, alleging corrupt conduct in breach of the Elections (Corrupt and Illegal Conduct) Ordinance.
The case was part of one of the biggest crackdowns on election fraud in Hong Kong in more than a decade. Some 72 people were arrested in the operation code-named “Snow Leopard” conducted by the Independent Commission Against Corruption in 2017.
Li, 49, together with Chan, 61, and his eldest daughter Chan Hiu-tung, a 32-year-old receptionist, were found guilty last month of one count of conspiracy to engage in corrupt conduct at an election by offering an advantage to others.
The father and daughter were also found guilty of engaging in corrupt conduct at an election by accepting an advantage.
These charges are punishable by up to three years in prison and a HK$200,000 (US$26,000) fine.
But Li maintained that he was innocent and told the probation officer that he was only helping the family to apply for a computer course, with the money being a subsidy.
His defence counsel Bruce Tse Chee-ho asked for a suspended jail sentence, arguing that the five votes from the family paled into insignificance when compared to the number of total voters.
“Without a doubt, the present case certainly had no impact on the election results,” Tse said.
Chan, the father, similarly claimed that he was an innocent victim and countered that the taxi association had misused his personal information meant for applying for an IT course.
His lawyer added that prosecutors had no evidence that fraudulent methods were used to obtain qualification, and noted that the conspiracy involved only one household accepting a one-off payment to vote for one seat, without triggering any electoral challenge.
Meanwhile, Chan’s daughter – who had asked her boyfriend if he was interested in providing his information – claimed she did not know she could vote in the functional constituency, and said she had not voted since September 2016.
Her mother, who voted, boyfriend and sister were not charged.
The magistrate said these post-conviction statements reflected a lack of remorse on the part of all three defendants who each played a proactive and indispensable role in the conspiracy that was proved by iron-clad evidence.
She also noted that Chan senior was a one-time district councillor who should know the importance of clean elections.
All three defendants were sentenced to nine months in prison on the conspiracy charge.
Two extra months were imposed on the father and daughter for accepting an advantage, and they were ordered to return the bribes to the court, as required by the ordinance.
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