Peking's rich friend guilty but unbowed

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The Independent Online
HONG KONG'S most brazen legislator, who describes himself as a "madman", has been found guilty of a conspiracy to forge, a charge which carries a maximum 14-year jail sentence. However, Chim Pui-chung, the guilty legislator, sees no reason why he should resign from office as a law maker.

The charge arises from a multi-million pound scandal involving public companies controlled by Mr Chim.

Now serving his third term as a legislator, multi-millionaire Mr Chim has presented himself as the voice of ordinary people. Revelling in a lack of sophistication and employing a style of presentation more suited to street markets than the legislative chamber, he has managed to keep himself in the news.

Mr Chim was described as "pig-headed, reckless and irresponsible", and that was by his own counsel, the former Attorney General John Griffiths. However the prosecution favoured a description of Mr Chim as "greedy, dishonest and corrupt".

After one of the most costly trials in Hong Kong history, lasting 131 days, the jury took one and a half days to bring in the guilty verdict last Saturday - but also cleared Mr Chim of five other conspiracy charges relating to the defrauding of minority shareholders in a public company interestingly named Lucky Man.

Throughout the trial Mr Chim claimed he was the victim of persecution by the former colonial authorities because he had declined to support the democratic reforms introduced by the last governor, Chris Patten. However, Mr Chim, a firm supporter of Peking, produced no evidence to support these claims.

In his business and political careers Mr Chim has courted controversy with relish. He was the main stockbroker for George Tan, the most notorious corporate swindler in Hong Kong's history. Mr Tan's business collapse very nearly dragged Mr Chim under and he left for Canada to recover his fortunes. Shortly after his return he developed a taste for politics and stood for one of Hong Kong's notorious rotten borough seats, with a tiny electorate representing fellow stock brokers and, at the time, insurance companies. When it became clear that the insurance people had not voted for him, Mr Chim said he would not bother to represent their interests.

Once in the legislative chamber he quickly acquired a reputation for ranting and raging. At one point he launched a racist attack on one of the council's few non-Chinese members. He also made new enemies after telling a television interviewer that "all women are whores".

In the middle of his trial he stood again for the legislature. This time his rotten borough constituency had been made even smaller and he secured a seat with just 125 votes.

Clearly relishing his role as a legislator he made a point of attending a meeting with Tung Chee-hwa, the Chief Executive, before returning to court on Saturday to hear the jury's verdict.

When the jury retired Mr Chim broke all legal conventions by calling a press conference to affirm his determination to remain in the Legislative Council and, again, protest his innocence.

Fellow legislators seem less keen on seeing Mr Chim retain his seat, although Hong Kong's new mini-constitution, the Basic Law, requires two thirds of the council to vote for his expulsion. Margaret Ng, the legislator representing the legal profession, said that if Mr Chim kept his seat it would damage the reputation of the council. In 1995, another legislator for one of the rotten borough seats was expelled after being given a jail sentence for vote buying.

Mr Chim is a very wealthy man. When he was first elected to the legislature he boasted that he owned properties in Hong Kong worth HK$600-700 million, alongside some HK$200 million invested in Chinese properties, a total of some pounds 76 million.

Never shy of flaunting his wealth, he always came to court in a chauffeur- driven, gold Rolls Royce, although his last departure was made in a rather more humble prison van, taking him to jail before sentencing today.

Defiant to the end, he spoke to reporters from the dock before being led away. He said he would appeal but conceded that he had to "face reality".