The Hong Kong government has drawn criticism from some lawmakers over the way it has dealt with the legal case on tycoon Ma Sik-chun, who fled to Taiwan in 1978 after being charged with drug offenses.
A local court on Monday rejected an appeal by Ma to revoke the arrest warrant issued against him more than 35 years ago, even as Ma’s lawyer argued that the case was a very old one and that the government itself had admitted that it no longer had sufficient evidence to prosecute him.
Following the revelation of the Department of Justice’s admission, lawmakers have questioned whether it was right for the government agency to inform the defendant about the lack of strength in the case.
“It is very unusual. I never thought the Department of Justice could tell a defendant about his chance of winning a court case before a judge makes a pronouncement,” Ronny Tong Ka-wah, a Civic Party legislator, told the Apple Daily.
Tong also said it is hard to understand why Ma, a co-founder of Oriental Daily News, had applied for cancellation of the arrest warrant issued against him, given that the warrant has no time limit.
Eric Cheung Tat-ming, a law professor at Hong Kong University, agreed that it is rare that a defendant who has fled Hong Kong has sought the lifting of an arrest warrant.
Ma, also known as Ma Yik-shing, was charged in August 1977 with conspiracy to traffic morphine and opium. He fled to Taiwan the following year while awaiting trial.
James To Kun-sun, a Democratic Party lawmaker, said although the justice department may not have enough evidence to prosecute Ma, the chance cannot be ruled out that some witnesses may come forward to provide more evidence. It is possible that Ma can be charged with new evidence, he said.
The Department of Justice informed Ma’s lawyers in 2005 that it had come to the conclusion that it no longer had sufficient evidence to justify placing Ma on trial for any of the offences for which he was indicted in 1978, according to a statement on its website on Monday.
This conclusion was reached after detailed and careful analysis of the available evidence and witnesses, the department said. Among others, the conclusion was based on the consideration that the relevant witnesses had passed away, or were unable to recall the relevant events due to long lapse of time or old age, or were unwilling to cooperate, it said.
According to Apple Daily, the justice department had issued the letter to Ma’s lawyers on Oct. 20, 2005, which was the last working day of former Secretary for Justice Elsie Leung Oi-sie.
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