The Final Court of Appeal continued with the closing arguments of the defence team in the case against the former Prosecutor-general Ho Chio Meng yesterday.
Accusation: Northern European trip turned into private travel and used public funds
The main defence lawyer Oriana Inácio Pun stated that prosecuting the former head of the Public Prosecutions Office for a trip that happened a decade ago was inappropriate, while also pointing out that other prosecutors who had participated in the event had also taken their wives.
The trip happened in 2005 when Ho was invited to attend a Public Prosecutor’s conference in Copenhagen.
Ms. Pun added that other participants of the event also confirmed the attendance of Ho’s wife.
According to Antonio Lai Kin Ian, the former chief of the Public Prosecutions Office, as cited by the defence lawyer yesterday, Ho had made a phone call to the Chief Executive to request authorisation for the trip.
The defence lawyer stated that the separation of payment of the trip could not be considered as an act of fraud, while also pointing out that there was no evidence proving Ho had ordered to pay in two instalments.
“Maybe there is an issue with the administrative procedures for separating the payment, but this is not fraud,” said Pun.
Accusation: setting up a criminal organisation and controlling shell companies
The defence lawyer stressed that there was no concrete evidence to prove the former Prosecutor-general had made any orders to organise a group to commit crimes, adding that the evidence did not prove the involvement of Ho either.
The defence lawyer pointed out that the companies in the case had in fact performed their services, saying that the companies had paid taxes, hired workers and even contributed to the Social Security Fund.
Pun also said that no complaints were made during the 15 years when these companies had taken up the projects from the Public Prosecutions Office (MP) and she emphasised that the practice of using subcontractors is common.
There is no law that prohibits the existence of subcontractors, pointed out Pun.
“Many departments [in MP] know the existence of subcontractors,” said the lawyer.
In regards to the higher-than-market-prices charged by the companies, Pun argued that there is no standard for a market price.
Meanwhile, project proposals made by the former top official’s subordinates had usually gone through several departments prior to receiving approval from Ho, stated Pun, adding that no existing signs showed the former top official was concerned with whether those companies received the projects or not.
The wiretap recording
Meanwhile, the defence team questioned the validity of the wiretap recording made after the investigation into Ho had started.
Pun said that the recording could not prove that the person speaking was in fact Ho, indicating that the wiretap recording had not undergone audio identification and base station location analysis, which are commonly utilised.
The lawyer said that hidden information regarding the receipts for reimbursement was in fact due to reasons of confidentiality. This, Pun said, also explained the reasoning for the MP hiring the same companies to perform certain services.
Income not from the shell companies
The defence team revealed that the former top official had properties valued at over MOP20 million (US$2.49 million), and questioned why Ho would commit fraud to allegedly embezzle only some MOP10 million over a 15-year period.
Aside from the income made from interest on deposits and insurance, Pun disclosed that Ho had once made a large amount of income from gambling and also through investment in real estate in Mainland China.
The lawyer said there were two people who could attest to the aforementioned income, but they had refused to attend the trial.
Should not be considered as fraud
With over 1,000 accusations, Pun stated that it was unreasonable to accuse Ho of committing fraud. She explained that the crime of fraud involves a victim being either an individual or a company, but it is impossible for a public entity like the MP to be considered a victim of fraud. Even if a case involved a scam performed by a civil servant, Pun perceived that penalisation and punishment should be in accordance with the criminal law for civil servants, but not a prosecution for fraud.
She added that no evidence presented proved Ho had received any benefits, while she also remarked that potential abuse of power practised by Ho could only be proven if all the contracts involved the former official.
Concluding her closing arguments, Pun stressed that Ho had not committed fraud, appointed anyone or received benefits, while remarking that the Prosecutors were “quoting out of context”.
Ho’s final statement
The former MP head argued that the charges brought against him were part of a revenge plot by the current MP directors, questioning the MP’s accusations, saying that the accusations were based on weak evidence.
In particular, the former top official perceived that the accusation of setting up an unlawful social organisation to commit crimes was unjust, saying that he would have approached a more powerful person instead of the defendants in the case – who didn’t come from powerful social backgrounds, “with one of them having eye sickness and being 70 years old,” he stated.
He also denounced the Prosecutors for starting the investigation with the underlying stance of finding evidence that would prove he had committed crimes, prior to any prosecution being made.
Nevertheless, Ho pointed out his perceived wrongdoings.
With only the MP having a guest house, Ho said he should have terminated the rental of a Cheoc Van property under the MP’s name years ago.
Regarding the recruiting of Wang Xiandi as a former consultant at the MP, Ho said he had neglected to recognise the unfairness of the recruitment.
Moreover, Ho admitted his fault for not making any records when he moved the valuable agar wood that had been confiscated by the Macau Customs Service.
While admitting he had made mistakes, Ho also apologized and bowed to the court, but continued to deny the charges.
After expressing his thoughts, the former top official earnestly wished, while visibly shedding tears, that the presiding judges would consider imposing a lenient sentence, given that he has two young children and that his wife is taking care of the entire family.
A closed-door trial relating to special charges will be held on May 18, the presiding judge Sam Hou Fai announced.