The family of a notorious police sergeant who fled to Vancouver with millions of dollars he had accumulated in bribes during a 31-year career has returned part of the ill-gotten fortune to the Hong Kong government.
Hon Kwing-shum, alias Hon Shum or Hon Sum, served in the Royal Hong Kong Police from September 1940 until he retired in August 1971 during which time he had earned a total of about C$35,000.
But upon retirement he and his beneficiaries owned millions of dollars worth of assets. This included over 50 properties, various bank accounts, investments in Hong Kong, Florida, Thailand and British Columbia.
Last month, seven years after the corrupt cop, known as one of the “Five Dragons” died – his family reached an out of court settlement and gave up about C$20 million dollars worth of property to the government of Hong Kong.
The Hong Kong government had launched a lawsuit to get at the assets which they said was obtained through corrupt means by Hon and his henchmen.
The assets handed over were all in Hong Kong and do not include the millions of dollars worth of property and investments linked to Hon in Canada.
A covert police study obtained by The Asian Pacific Post showed that Hon and his family had bought at least 11 residential and commercial properties and established a dozen companies in Vancouver and a restaurant on Robson Street.
The properties were mainly located in the posh Shaughnessy, Kerrisdale and South Granville neighbourhoods.
The police study done by Asian Organized Crime Investigators believes that up to 44 former Royal Hong Kong cops, followed the lead of Hon and the other so-called “Five Dragons” to escape a corruption crackdown and establish themselves in Canada with their ill-gotten gains.
The ex-Royal Hong Kong police officers, their wives, concubines and children have invested tens of millions of dollars in businesses and real estate in Canada, mostly in B.C. and Ontario, according to the secret Canadian police study.
The study also found that four of them, whose average salary was about HK$30,000 a year each, had built a two-tower, 600-room hotel in Toronto valued at more than $20 million.
The richest eleven of the 44 fugitive cops were estimated to have a combined asset base both directly and indirectly of some C$80 million.
"It is not exactly understood how much influence or power these former police officials possess regarding Chinese criminal activities in North America but, because of past ties, former influence, possible triad connections and money illegally obtained, they definitely could influence Chinese criminal patterns as we know them today," the study said.
Brian McAdam, a former immigration-control officer in Hong Kong, said he managed to stop at least six ex-cops suspected of being affiliated with triads from entering Canada in the '80s.
"But many more got through with their connections or by pumping money into investor immigration schemes," he told The Asian Pacific Post in an interview on this subject two years ago.
"Some of these guys had close connections in high places and we were not seeing all the paperwork."
The exodus of Hong Kong cops to Canada can be tracked back to the mid-'70s when the newly formed agency called Independent Commission Against Corruption (ICAC) began enforcing prevention-of-bribery laws.
In the ensuing investigations, ICAC brought 260 police officers to court after finding 18 criminal syndicates operating in the police force.
The criminal element in the Hong Kong police force at that time was led by five station sergeants known as the Five Dragons. One of the Dragons was Hon.
The Five Dragons, all of whom eventually ended up in Canada, had geographical control of police jurisdictions in Hong Kong and collected graft while allowing the triads to conduct their criminal activities.
In the mid-seventies as the corruption crackdown in Hong Kong intensified, Hon, despite his criminal connections, became a landed immigrant in Vancouver.
British Columbia court records show that Hon was arrested by the RCMP on June 22, 1976 at his house on 515 West 54 Ave in Vancouver on an extradition warrant issued by the Hong Kong ICAC.
At that time he was said to have in his control HK$2,343,624 (C$468,000), a sum disproportionate to his salary as a Detective Staff Seargent of the Royal Hong Kong Police Department.
The next day, Hon appeared in a Vancouver provincial court where Canadian Justice Department lawyer P.W. Halprin said Hon is a landed immigrant who arrived in Vancouver several months ago. He said police seized about C$6,000 from him when he was arrested. After spending five days in jail, Hon was released on bail after four people put up C$250,000 in property for the bail.
The bail was raised by family and friends of Hon and covered the titles of six houses.
The bail was raised by his:
i) Concubine - Kan Suk Ying (515 West 54 Ave Vancouver and later of 2008 West 51st Ave Vancouver). She raised C$120,000.
ii) Son - David Hon Kam Hung (Date of Birth 2 Sept 1950/B.C.Driving Licence 2788025) and his wife Alice Hon Yoke Leng (DOB 14 Aug 1949/BCDL 2116473). They raised C$48,500.
iii) Fei-Fung Lui, a UBC student who listed her address as 4135 Salish Drive, Vancouver. She raised C$81,500.
The judge also ordered Hon's three passports British, Taiwan and Chinese - to be held. On March 2, 1977, after several legal delays an extradition hearing began.
Hon's lawyer, H.A.D. Oliver, who later went on to become a judge and a conflict-of-interest commissioner, applied for the case to be thrown out on a technicality involving the law.
Three months later, a Federal Court judge agreed with Hon's lawyer and ordered the extradition hearing stopped. Hon is released, bail is discontinued and his three passports returned. The government of Canada appealed this ruling to the Federal Court of Appeals Canada.
On January 24, 1978, the Federal Court of Appeals overturned the ruling and ordered Hon's re-arrest and the resumption of extradition hearings but by that time Hon had left Canada for Taiwan.
Hon died at the age of 76 in August 1999 in Taipei. The following year the Justice Department of Hong Kong began its court challenge to go after Hon's estate.
In an analytical report done by the RCMP liaison office in Hong Kong around the time the corrupt cops were fleeing, it was estimated "that 35 per cent of all Chinese policemen were triad members."
Police officers and lawyers familiar with proceeds of crime investigations said the money brought in by the corrupt Hong Kong cops is likely to have been legitimized through a variety of means and that there is very little the authorities can do now, unless the same players are actively involved in criminal enterprises.
The conclusion to Hon's case marks the end of a string of police corruption cases in Hong Kong dating from the 1970s, Chinese media reported.
One of those cases involved retired detective sergeant Lui Lok, who also invested his fortune in Vancouver. Civil proceedings began in 1978 and an out-of-court settlement was reached with his family in 1986.
Civil proceedings were also launched by the Hong Kong government against the other fugitive cops and assets recovered, but the repossession of Hon's assets was far and away the largest of the lot, Chinese news media said.
Former ICAC deputy director of operations Alex Tsui Ka-kit, one of the investigators in Hon's case, described the settlement as "sensible and reasonable".
In a telephone interview with the South China Morning Post, Tsui said: "The man [Hon] is no longer here. But the case has dragged on and on for so many years, with so much time and effort having been put into it.It is about time it came to an end. The settlement is also a relief for the members of his family, who have been under a lot of pressure."