May 30, 2006

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In the old days, Hong Kong was a den of vice and corruption, where the cops were in cahoots with the triads and everyone made out like bandits. The family of one of the infamous "four sargeants" has finally struck a deal with the ICAC (which was originally set up to deal with this corruption). How did ICAC realise something was amiss?

The ICAC first began investigating Hon in 1976 for "assets disproportionate" to his humble salary, which totaled HK$193,852 over a 31-year career with the Royal Hong Kong Police Force.

By the time Hon retired in August 1971, he held 49 properties then worth HK$2.12 million, plus HK$1.24 million in investments, HK$703,000 in bank accounts and two Mercedes-Benz cars worth HK$78,911.

That's some savvy investing. The SCMP has a short piece summarising how these comparitively lowly ranked policemen managed to control so much power and wealth. It's below the jump. Meanwhile, compare and contrast with another story in today's SCMP:
Almost 80 per cent of raids on suspected illegal gambling dens last year ended in failure, figures released by police have revealed.
Finally, and again completely unrelated, LegCo rolled over and approved the Tamar white elephant, although law makers are annoyed the government isn't promoting Tamar as the "people's project". That's fair enough - it is taxpayer money that's being wasted. Plus ca change and all that.

The notorious "four great Chinese sergeants" - among them Hon Sum - began their corrupt reign in the 1960s. They were all police staff sergeants, a post that has since been abolished, and were in their posts for years, unlike today where officers are rotated.

As officers on beat patrol had close contact with gambling, prostitution and other organised crime, the very nature of their job offered ample opportunities for graft. Those who refused were ostracised or pressured to leave.

But, as a retired customs officer explained, this was made worse by the organisational structure of the police force, in the form of the staff sergeant and sergeant major. "A staff sergeant, while being lowly on the organisational chart, actually exercised enormous power," he said in an interview with the Post yesterday on condition that he not be named.

"You didn't have a choice. If you refused to take bribes, you were thumbing your nose at your superiors, you would be upsetting careful arrangements maintained between crime and law enforcement - upsetting the balance, so to speak."

There were three or four staff sergeants at any one time, and they were in charge of all the rank-and-file officers in their areas. Unlike today's division by districts, they were responsible for huge geographic areas - Hong Kong Island, Kowloon - Yau Ma Tei had its own sergeant - and New Territories. A sergeant major lorded over them.

Notionally, the staff sergeant ranked below an inspector, but even senior inspectors had to show them respect. This is because these powerful sergeants knew the pulse of the street, and effectively controlled gang activities and the territories each was allowed to operate - all the while taking a large chunk of commissions. Peter Godber, one of the ICAC's most high-profile cases, was a chief superintendent.

The sergeants' immediate boss, the sergeant major, communicated directly with the assistant commissioners.

"Police staff sergeants could directly communicate with a superintendent or senior superintendent who would probably be on the take," the former customs officer said. "They were powerful because they were the links between the top brass and the low ranks."

The four sergeants - Hon, Lui Lok, Nan Kong and Ngan Hung - effectively divided Hong Kong among themselves.

Hon entered the police in September 1940 and retired in August 1971. When he retired, he had a fortune estimated to be worth more than $4 million on total salaries of $193,852 over 31 years in the force.

In 1976, the ICAC bought charges against Hon for alleged bribery and applied for an arrest warrant but he had moved to Canada. The government sought to have him extradited in May 1977 but the bid failed when he fled to Taiwan, where he died in August 1999.

posted by Simon on 05.30.06 at 05:09 AM in the Hong Kong category.


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