A mainland Chinese businessman who triggered a 36-hour manhunt in Hong Kong after escaping police custody through a hospital toilet ceiling was on Friday jailed for 18 months, as the magistrate accused him of repeatedly undermining the city’s judicial system.
Leon Li Lihua, 34, was arrested last November for absconding from a trial for presenting a fake Hong Kong ID card at the US consulate in 2015, Eastern Court heard. He complained of feeling unwell and was taken to hospital, where he escaped during a toilet break.
He pleaded guilty before magistrate Lee Siu-ho last month to four charges including using a forged identity card, failing to surrender to custody as shall have been appointed, escaping from lawful custody and resisting a police officer.
On Friday, Li’s barrister, Fu Chong-sang, urged the magistrate to exercise mercy and discretion in sentencing, taking into account that Li had been detained for 108 days in total and that he had to take care of his sick son.
Fu said Li had stupidly believed agents who claimed they could help him apply for a Hong Kong ID card via legal channels.
The court heard that in 2015, Li had applied for a visa to the United States in hope of accompanying his US-born youngest son there to seek medical treatment. The child is suffering from a potentially fatal form of epilepsy.
The lawyer presented the magistrate with a mitigation letter penned by Li’s friend, who had been taking care of the boy.
In an earlier letter to the court, Li, a Cambridge-educated father of four five-year-olds had spoken of his regret and shame, explaining that he had fled his trial in 2015 because his son had been admitted to a Beijing hospital and that he had taken the risk of returning to Hong Kong because the child needed treatment in the city.
In sentencing, Lee said each of the four offences was serious, even taking into account Li’s previously clear record, high level of education and achievements in business. The seriousness of the offences outweighed his sympathy for the family, the magistrate added.
He blasted Li for showing no respect for the city’s judicial system, costing the administration extra time and money to bring him to justice, and undermining the public’s confidence in the system.
Lee said the businessman had broken his solemn promise of bail to the court, and he had himself to blame for bringing his family into such a predicament, adding that Li should have thought about the consequences of his behaviour for his sick son and disabled father.
The magistrate sentenced him to 15 months in jail for using a forged identity card, 4½ months each for failing to surrender to custody and escaping from lawful custody, and two months for resisting a police officer.
Considering the businessman’s guilty plea and the totality of the sentencing, Lee sentenced him to a jail term of 18 months.
Escaping lawful custody and using a forged identity card are both punishable by two years’ imprisonment at the magistrates’ level, with the latter offence carrying a maximum fine of HK$50,000 (US$6,370).
Failing to surrender to custody and resisting police are both punishable by six months’ imprisonment, with the former carrying a higher maximum fine of HK$75,000 while the latter is capped at HK$5,000.
Two men who helped Li escape – Sang Tian, 33, and Zhan Guiyou, 31 – were both jailed last month for three months.