A group of indigenous villagers is planning an appeal after a judge sentenced them to prison for fraud over secret deals to sell land rights.
On Friday, Judge Sham Siu-man sentenced them to 30-34 months in jail, saying they acted like welfare cheats, Apple Daily reports.
Developer David Li Yam-pui (李欽培), 82, was jailed three years.
The villagers from Sa Tin said they will appeal the conviction with the help of the Heung Yee Kuk, the powerful village council that represents indigenous interests.
The group was convicted last week, along with Li, over a scheme in which the villagers made false claims that they were land owners in order to obtain building licenses from the government.
They then closed deals with Li, who runs Full Wealthy Development, according to court documents.
The villagers received HK$130,000 (US$16,770) to HK$250,000 from the sale of land rights.
The offenses took place between 2008 and 2011.
The court heard that the group took advantage of the small house policy which grants male indigenous inhabitants of the New Territories who are 18 and above a one-time right to build a small house, known as ding uk, subject to government approval.
They can either apply for a free building license to build a small house on their own land at no land premium or obtain a private treaty grant of government land, if available, at a concessionary premium.
In mitigation, the group cited a letter form Carrie Lam, then head of the Development Bureau that restrictions on the sale of land rights would be lifted.
The judge rejected the claim, saying the government will never allow it.
He said professional property agents might have talked the defendants into breaking the law.
Meanwhile, Heung Yee Kuk officials expressed concern the sentence might provoke other villagers into violence.
Chairman Kenneth Lau, son of lawmaker Lau Wong-fat, said the village council will help the group with their appeal but will not provide any direct financial assistance.
He called for calm in the community.
Leung Fuk-yuen, who heads the Heung Yee Kuk’s traditional rights committee, said a task force has been created for that purpose.
It is planning a fundraising from among villagers in Yuen Long, Ta Po and Southern to raise HK$3 million to HK$5 million for legal costs.
Developer, villagers await sentencing in land rights fraud (Nov. 30, 2015)
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