Date
19 September 2017
A Hong Kong court looking into theft charges against a PhD student was told that depression and course-related stress had led the person to go astray. Photo: RTHK
A Hong Kong court looking into theft charges against a PhD student was told that depression and course-related stress had led the person to go astray. Photo: RTHK

PhD student admits to theft charges; blames depression

A mainlander pursuing architecture doctoral studies at the University of Hong Kong has pleaded guilty to eight counts of theft at a local court on Thursday, Apple Daily reported.

Sun Xiaonuan, 31, a Shandong-born woman, admitted in the Eastern Magistrates’ Court that she stole money from five classmates in November and December last year, according to the report.

The victims, who were aged between 24 and 29, found money missing from their wallets on different occasions after they gathered in an exclusive study room for PhD architecture students.

On Dec 7, Sun’s crime was exposed as one of her classmates left her laptop on the desk with the camera on before going out for lunch.

The camera footage showed Sun taking away two wallets of other students.

Sun, who is in the fourth year of her doctoral studies, confessed to the police that she took away banknotes worth a total of HK$4,303. The stolen money included US dollars, Hong Kong dollars and Chinese yuan.

The defense lawyer told the court that Sun had been a high-achiever since secondary school, and that she graduated from North China University of Technology and Tsinghua University.

Sun has been studying in HKU since 2011. However, the switch of her academic adviser in her final year of study has put huge pressure on her as the new professor wasn’t being helpful, the lawyer said.

Meanwhile, Sun was also said to be suffering from depression due to the sudden death of her grandfather last August.

A psychiatrist’s report has confirmed her illness, the lawyer said, pleading for leniency for the client.

Sun told the court that she felt that others were leading a better life than her and so she resorted to grabbing things in order to derive a sense of victory.

However, she felt bad and guilty each time after a theft, she said.

According to the report, Sun has written letters of apology to her victims and said she was willing to pay back all the stolen money.

Meanwhile, some professors also wrote letters in favor of Sun, pointing out that she is a diligent student and that she did some voluntary work in Taiwan and India.

However, the magistrate said it is a serious case, and suggested that it might be difficult for Sun to escape imprisonment. She was ordered to pay back the stolen money to all five victims immediately.

The judge will pronounce a sentence on Feb. 25 after considering probation officer reports and determining suitability for community service orders.

In the meantime, Sun is out on bail.

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DY/AC/RC

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