A Hong Kong waiter convicted of bribery in the district council elections five years ago told the city’s top court on Tuesday his offers of money to induce others to stand for election did not break corruption laws.
Cheng Wing-kin, 34, told the five judges presiding at the Court of Final Appeal that the Elections (Corrupt and Illegal Conduct) Ordinance only governed corrupt practices by officials rather than candidates.
The top court held a substantive hearing on Cheng’s appeal against his conviction on October 24, 2016, when he was found guilty of six counts of engaging in corrupt conduct in an election, and one of conspiracy to engage in corrupt conduct.
He was sentenced to four years in jail – which was reduced to three years and three months upon appeal – for offering at least HK$810,000 (US$104,000) to eight people, mostly localist party leaders, and asking them to send members to challenge pan-democrat contenders in designated constituencies.
Cheng, who was also an internet radio host at the time, claimed he was trying to gather information about untoward dealings of localist parties with the pan-democrats. The trial judge rejected his claim, asking why he had not made any recordings.
But the top court allowed him to lodge a final appeal, after finding it necessary to define the meaning of acting “corruptly” in the ordinance, a word which was not found in British case law.
Making his appeal in person, Cheng said he had not deprived others of the right to stand for election, and had no obligation to explain to electoral authorities his reasons for sponsoring others to do so.
Regarding the legal question, he claimed any act of sponsoring a candidate during an election – notwithstanding an intention on the part of the sponsor to dilute the voter base of particular candidates – should not be outlawed by the ordinance.
He further claimed the ordinance was drafted by the government to prevent the offering of advantages to candidates to have them act solely in the interests of their sponsors once elected.
Chief Justice Geoffrey Ma Tao-li, however, found such a definition “very narrow”.
Jonathan Man Tak-ho, senior assistant director of public prosecutions, said the ordinance was enacted to preserve a fair, open and honest election, and the court should consider this legislative intent when construing the meaning of the law.
Derek Chan Ching-lung SC, appointed by the court to provide independent advice, said any act to hinder the purity or integrity of an election, or any act with such a tendency, should be seen as a corrupt act.
The court has reserved its judgment to a later date.
This article Hong Kong waiter jailed in corruption case argues sponsoring people to stand in elections is not illegal first appeared on South China Morning Post