After successfully appealing his six-month imprisonment, former Executive Councillor Barry Cheung Chun-yuen has had his jail sentence reduced to 160 hours of community service for his failure to pay an employee $340,000 in wages.
Cheung, 57, who has been on bail since his sentencing, attended his appeal hearing on Monday afternoon at the High Court. In April, the Kowloon City Magistrates’ Court found him guilty of failing to pay wages to his employee within the stipulated period after the termination of the employment contract, defaulting instead on the sum awarded by the Labour Tribunal to the employee under the Employment Ordinance. Cheung was the chairman of the now-defunct Hong Kong Mercantile Exchange Limited at the time. He admitted to both charges and was sentenced to a six-week jail term.
However, on Monday that sentence was downgraded. At the appeal, Cheung’s lawyer, Senior Counsel Peter Duncan, said that Cheung admitted to his wrongdoing and was genuinely sorry. He also argued that Cheung had contributed to society as a public servant. His crimes did not amount to fraud or dishonesty and there was no need for a harsh sentence.
The judge disagreed with the argument that living at his residence in Repulse Bay meant Cheung did not feel sorry for his actions, saying that it could have been his wife who had insisted on living there. Cheung’s wife was paying for the rent and the court fees, and unless the prosecution had evidence to show otherwise, it could not be said that Cheung was not genuinely sorry, Sing Tao Daily reported.
The judge also said that Cheung was sued not personally but in his capacity of HKMEx chairman. He said the money Cheung had raised during his term as chairman of HKMEx could only be used to pay for the office, so it was wrong to say that Cheung had failed to give priority to paying his employee’s wages or was personally responsible.
The judge overturned the first instance court judge’s ruling and sentenced Cheung to 160 hours of community service. The Labour Department said that it will respect the decision of the court and will carefully read through the sentencing.
Cheung, who applied for bankruptcy this year, has been dubbed a ‘number one fan’ of Chief Executive Leung Chun-ying by local media. He served as the chairman of the Hong Kong Mercantile Exchange, an operator of an electronic platform for trading in gold and silver future, until 2013, when it was announced that the HKMEx had decided to surrender the licence to provide trading services because trading revenues had not been sufficient to support operating expenses.