March 1, 2019
A police officer was sentenced to 21 months in jail for stealing up to US$110,000 from an evidence locker to repay his gambling debts.
Lau Wing-fai, 42, pleaded guilty to one count of theft at District Court yesterday morning, Ming Pao reports.
The court heard that the motivation for the theft was Lau's gambling debts, accrued though betting on soccer matches, and owed up to HK$2 million (US$255,000) to a debt collector.
Lau was the assistant commander for Ta Kwu Ling police station in the New Territories, where his duties involved managing the station, including ensuring that evidence gathered by police was bagged and stored properly.
Apple Daily reports that in October 2017, officers gave Lau about RMB670,000 (US$100,000) in cash that had been seized from a crime scene to be processed as evidence. The cash was stored in 67 evidence bags.
In April, when officers needed to bring the evidence bags to court, Lau said that he decided to consolidate the cash into 34 evidence bags in order to save space. The cash was ultimately not accepted as evidence for that court case, according to Apple Daily, and all 34 bags were returned to the police station the same day.
On June 8, a colleague looking through the evidence lockers found that the 34 evidence bags had been unsealed, and were stuffed with fake bank notes, with a few real ones placed on the outside to hide the counterfeits.
Police also found that an additional five bags containing cash were missing from the station's evidence locker. Lau was arrested later that day, and it was discovered that he had stolen up to HK$860,000 in cash from the station's lockers.
In mitigation, Lau's defense attorney said that his client felt remorse for what he had done, and for tainting the image of Hong Kong's police force.
His lawyer called on the judge to show lenience to Lau, who had been sacked from his job as an officer, lost his police pension, and has a 6-year-old son and 3-year-old daughter.
But Judge Douglas Yau Tak-hong said that Lau, as an experienced police officer, knew how serious his crime was, and that he needed to understand the consequences of the crime he committed.
He added that the case involved a serious violation of integrity, and that the crime was apparently premeditated, as Lau had gotten the fake money to try and conceal his crime.
Yau also said that although Lau maintained he was a victim of gambling, there was no evidence to suggest he was a compulsive gambler.
Upon sentencing, Yau expressed some sympathy for the defendant, telling him that for the sake of his children, he needed to stay strong and give back to society when he's released.