Barry Cheung Chun-yuen, former chairman of the now-defunct Hong Kong Mercantile Exchange (HKMEx), is facing a fine and imprisonment after admitting in a court on Wednesday that he failed to pay nearly HK$340,000 (US$43,842) in wages to a former employee of the exchange.
Cheung, 57, who was once an executive councilor and chairman of the Urban Renewal Authority, pleaded guilty at Kowloon City Magistrates’ court, attributing the lapse to negligence, Apple Daily reported.
The former official, who had been a key supporter and adviser to Chief Executive Leung Chun-ying, had been sued by Raymond Ma Shui-lung, former senior corporate communications manager of HKMEx, over unpaid wages.
Ma claimed he did not get paid from May 1 to August 30, 2013.
A Labor Tribunal ruled last November that Cheung owed Ma HK$339,000 in wages and benefits, but Cheung failed to comply with the order.
According to the Employment Ordinance, an employer who willfully and without reasonable excuse fails to pay termination payments when they become due faces up to three years in jail and a fine of HK$350,000.
Cheung’s lawyer, Lawrence Hui Cheuk-lun, asked the judge for mitigation, saying that his client had been saddled with debts after injecting all his assets of HK$600 million into the ailing HKMEx.
Cheung is now unemployed, with a bankruptcy petition set for hearing next month, the lawyer pointed out.
Magistrate Veronica Heung Shuk-han refused the request, saying there is no ground for mitigation. If Cheung had money to pump into his former firm as well as hire a lawyer, why couldn’t he pay his employee, she questioned.
Describing the offence as serious and saying that imprisonment might be warranted, Heung ordered a community service report on Cheung and adjourned the case to April 20 for sentencing.
The judge granted Cheung bail on the condition that he makes a payment of HK$5,000 only in cash.
She denied requests from Cheung that either the bail amount be reduced or that he be allowed to make the payment the next day.
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