The husband of Secretary for Justice Teresa Cheng Yeuk-wah has been found guilty of violating the Buildings Ordinance by failing to report to authorities the construction of a pool in his Tuen Mun home.
Otto Poon Lok-to, a 78-year-old engineer, was slapped a fine of HK$20,000 for the offense.
The court heard earlier from the prosecution that the building of a pool in the garden of Poon’s residence at No. 3 Villa De Mer in Siu Lam, Tuen Mun, was started and undertaken between April 2, 2017 and January 9, 2018, although he knew he had to obtain approval from the Building Authority in advance.
Under the Buildings Ordinance, those undertaking construction work without official approval could be liable on conviction to a maximum fine of HK$400,000 and imprisonment for two years.
On Tuesday, at West Kowloon Magistrates’ Courts, Acting Chief Magistrate Victor So Wai-tak ordered Poon, a former president of the Hong Kong Institute of Engineers, to pay a fine of HK$20,000 for the offense within 14 days, the Hong Kong Economic Journal reported.
In his ruling, So said he agreed with the defense witness James Lau Chi-wang, a structural and geotechnical engineer who had examined the pool, reportedly measuring 12 square meters with a capacity of 14 metric tons of water, and asserted that it did not pose any danger to the structures of the house.
However, So said the pool is of substantial weight and size that qualifies it as “an integral part of the garden landscape” of Poon’s house, despite the fact that the water can be unloaded.
As such, the magistrate said, Poon should have reported to the Buildings Department.
So also rejected the testimony from the Buildings Department’s chief surveyor at the time of the Poon case, Michael Pang Yuk-lung, who acted as the prosecution’s expert witness, saying his words were too vague and calling him not objective for having taken a stance on the issue at hand.
Poon’s lawyer Kim Joseph McCoy asked for leniency from the court before the ruling was given, saying Poon, who did not appear in court, had been a pioneer in Hong Kong’s engineering sector and made great contributions to the city in the fields of environment and sustainable development, with multiple awards and having no criminal conviction.
McCoy stressed that Poon did not deliberately break the law but only “at most” made a “mistake”, hoping that the judge would just fine the defendant as punishment.
McCoy said outside the court that he would study the judgment before deciding whether to appeal the verdict.
The finding of the unauthorized pool owned by Poon came after Cheng was accused in early 2018 of having several illegal structures at her house, which is right next to Poon’s.
However, Cheng has escaped prosecution because the Department of Justice led by her decided not to take any legal action against her after seeking independent legal opinion.
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