SCMP Saturday, April 21, 2001

Father admits crime 23 years on to set son an example


A restaurateur was jailed for three years yesterday after confessing to a crime he committed more than 20 years ago for which he knew it would be virtually impossible to convict him.
In an echo of Jean Valjean, a character in Victor Hugo's classic novel Les Miserables, Tung Kam-hon, 54, gave in to his conscience and surrendered the position he had built up in society since his crime. Since jumping bail on drug offences 23 years earlier, Tung had lived the life of a respectable citizen and operated a restaurant. He said he evaded detection by keeping himself out of trouble and never leaving the territory.
Tung's counsel, Stephen Chan Siu-ming, said yesterday Tung had decided to surrender because he wanted to show his son, now 34, that he was a good role model. "He told me he has to show responsibility to his son," Mr Chan said after the court hearing. In the 19th-century novel Les Miserables, Valjean, a woodcutter, was jailed for five years after stealing a loaf of bread for his sister's child. After escaping from an extended 19-year sentence, Valjean changed his name and rose to become town mayor and a factory owner. He eventually confesses his true identity to authorities when an innocent man is about to be jailed in his place.
Tung, dressed smartly in a plaid jacket, showed no emotion yesterday as he was jailed after admitting conspiring to traffick in dangerous drugs in June 1977. His son was not present in court.
Mr Chan told the Court of First Instance his client failed to show up for his original trial in 1978 because he feared for the welfare of his 11-year-old son if he was convicted and jailed.
He said that at the time Tung had just separated from his wife and was living with his son at Yuen Long. "His son is now an adult with a proper job and now the defendant is willing to surrender himself and put himself before justice."
Prosecutor Evelyn Tsang told Deputy Judge Judianna Barnes Wai-ling that Tung had attempted to organise two women to pick up a small quantity of heroin in Bangkok or Singapore where they would hide it in the hollow heels of their platform shoes and travel to Holland.
But Tung did not know the two women he took shoe shopping were undercover police officers who had been secretly recording the conversations between Tung and his associates, Wong Fei-hung and Chan Ming-fai.
Three days after the two women had handed over their passports and bought their shoes, the three men were arrested at a restaurant in Nathan Road.
Ms Tsang said on March 13, 1978, Tung failed to attend his trial. His two associates were later jailed for five years. Mr Chan said his client had insisted on facing up to his crimes despite his counsel's advice that the prosecution's case was weak due to the loss of the original tapes and the fact that people's memories had faded.
In sentencing Tung, Deputy Judge Barnes said she accepted Tung's mitigating circumstances and agreed the prosecution would have had a hard time proving its case before a jury, given the time that had elapsed. "Despite all this, the defendant wanted to plead guilty so I believe he is remorseful," she said.