A Hong Kong court has convicted Otto Poon, the husband of Hong Kong’s Secretary for Justice Teresa Cheng, for building an unauthorised pool in his Tuen Mun residence.

Poon was fined HK$20,000 for violating the Buildings Ordinance section 14(1), which states that no person shall commence or carry out any building works without having first obtained a permit from the Building Authority.

Otto Poon
Otto Poon. File photo: Citizen News.

Poon was absent from court on Tuesday, which his lawyers said was because he was hospitalised.

Local media revealed last January that there were illegal structures at properties belonging to Cheng and Poon. After almost a year, the Department of Justice decided to only prosecute Poon, but laid no charges against Cheng.

Director of Public Prosecutions David Leung said the decision was made after seeking independent legal advice. Barrister Edwin Choy said there was no evidence to show that the illegal structures at Cheng’s property were built after she became the owner, or that she had knowingly commenced or carried out unauthorised building works after taking ownership.

The structure in question was an outdoor Endless Pool that measured 4.65 metres by 2.6 metres, and was 1.24 metres tall. It was dismantled last January, shortly after officials from the Buildings Department conducted their inspection.

otto poon endless pool
The ‘Endless Pool’ on Poon’s property. Photo: handout.

During the trial, an expert witness summoned by the defence said that the pool was like “a bag of water,” similar to those used to sell goldfish, instead of a water tank.

However, the prosecution argued that the pool was a permanent structure that could affect the structural integrity of the building – especially because it could carry 14 tonnes of water when filled.

Poon, who was a former president of the Hong Kong Institution of Engineers, should have been aware of the need to apply for a permit, prosecutors added.

Acting Chief Magistrate So Wai-tak ruled on Tuesday that the pool counted as a “structure” even if it could be moved and did not exceed load-bearing limits.

Otto Poon
The pool at Otto Poon’s house (right). It has been removed.

The pool took up 15 per cent of the outdoor area of Poon’s house, therefore it had a certain size and weight, So said. It was also secured in place by wooden panels which made it effectively immobile.

In mitigation, defence lawyer Kim McCoy said that Poon’s offence was “technical” in nature, and that his client was well known in Hong Kong’s engineering industry. Poon had also contributed to the city’s development and took part in various advisory roles, McCoy added.

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Holmes Chan is a reporter at Hong Kong Free Press. He covers local news with a focus on law, politics, and social movements. He studied law and literature at the University of Hong Kong.