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Dale Ko: Has syndicated police corruption returned to haunt Hong Kong?

While Hong Kong has generally been regarded as one of the least corrupt places in the world, with a rather clean government and disciplined services, the facts revealed in a recent corruption trial against two police officers and a businessman raised concerns about the wider integrity of the police department.

A Police Constable, a Station Sergeant, and a businessman (the three defendants) were sentenced to jail terms up to three years on February 14.

They were convicted earlier of conspiracy to commit misconduct in public office in relation to a murder case under investigation by the police.

The case was widely covered by local press media. According to the Apple Daily (a Chinese language newspaper), the trial judge remarked that the case is “unprecedented.” Indeed, the facts revealed in the trial were disturbing.

Neither of the police officers — Constable Lee Yuen-fook, 48 and station sergeant Yip Kwok-leung, 51 — were assigned to take part in the investigation of the murder case. But from October 2014 to June 2015 they conspired with the businessman and others to obtain and divulge confidential information about the murder case. 

They also gave advice on tactics the suspects should use when facing police investigation in the murder case. 

In return, the three defendants were to receive bribes totaling HK$600,000 (about $77,000).

The information the defendants divulged included investigation progress, a list of the murder case suspects, CCTV footage details, and the negative result of a DNA test. Covertly taped conversations revealed discussion of allocation of the monetary rewards among four to five people. 

Evidence further revealed that the list of the murder case suspects had originated from a police officer who hasn’t been charged in the present case.

Constable Lee received the heaviest sentence of three years. He had acted as the key conduit of bribes and the confidential police information.

At the sentencing, the trial judge said the case was even more serious than a landmark corruption case in 2003 against the then Police Superintendent Sin Kam-wah, who was found guilty of misconduct for accepting free sexual services and sentenced to three years imprisonment.

Another upcoming court case involves Police Superintendent Ng Wai-hon. He’s a high-ranking anti-triad police officer charged in Oct 2017 with accepting money from night-club operators. 

Taken together, the cases raise the specter of syndicated police corruption in Hong Kong, which should precipitate robust responses and actions by the relevant local authorities.

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Dale Ko is an independent anti-corruption consultant based in Hong Kong. He formerly served for about twenty years in the Operations Department of the Hong Kong’s Independent Commission Against Corruption (ICAC), including as Principal Investigator. He can be contacted here.

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