Lawyers Andrew Lam and Kevin Egan are conclusively cleared of perverting the course of justice after the Court of Final Appeal respectively quashes and refuses to un-quash their previous convictions. The saga goes back six years and is a perfect example of why top legal folk deserve high salaries simply for putting up with the excruciatingly tedious and mind-numbing detail they have to deal with.
What started as a tiresome enough share-manipulation case plunged into a bog of ‘he-said she-said’ finger-pointing when the Independent Commission Against Corruption reacted badly to the lawyers’ attempts to contact, and thus publicly identify, a witness who was under the anti-graft sleuths’ protection. (Or something like that; my threshold of tolerance for explanations of legal cases that require more than one sentence is low at the best of times.) To hear the ICAC tell it, Lam and Egan had committed a terrible outrage against law and justice.
However, the graft-busters’ own behaviour also raised eyebrows. They dragged the alleged villains into custody, they raided newspapers, they produced a creepy porn-fan witness. And… they demanded that the Foreign Correspondents Club hand over Egan’s bar bill.
It was at this point that even the most casual onlooker saw that the ICAC was Trying Way Too Hard here. Lam and Egan had a history of successfully defending people against the ICAC, and it was looking personal. It possibly didn’t help that the Hong Kong government at the time was going through an extra severe bout of paranoiac bad-loser syndrome.
The outcome, after Egan did a spell in prison, is that the ICAC today end up looking even more stupid than Lam and Egan had made them look in the past. Gory artists’ impressions of a woman having acid flung in her face by her husband occupy some front pages, but the victory of what the Standard likes to call the ‘ICAC killers’ is at least Hong Kong’s number-two story this morning.
We were all brought up to believe that the ICAC is the upright and honourable law-enforcement agency that, reporting directly to the Chief Executive, keeps the Big Lychee’s playing field squeaky clean, civilized and, of course, level. That image dates back to the cleaning up of the police back in the 1970s. In modern times, however, the agency has a noticeably thin record of achievements, largely hurling the book at private-sector nonentities indulging in – and being dumb enough to get caught at – pitiful scams.
Meanwhile, some senior civil servant somewhere makes a discretionary decision or mysteriously leaves loopholes in some fine print. The floor area at Henderson Land’s Grand Promenade site in Shaukeiwan is raised from 85,720 sq meters to 135,451. Cousins of New Territories village chiefs win endless fat contracts for pointless public works projects. The New World/Urban Renewal Authority’s hulking Masterpiece in Tsimshatsui transmutes from offices, to hotel, to serviced apartments, to (unzoned-for) private residential use. And on, and on, and the ICAC is nowhere to be seen, unless it has someone’s FCC bar bill in its sites.