Giving evidence at her trial in the District Court, Tax consultant Deborah Annells said she had made a series of “ unfortunate mistakes” which led to her being arrested by the police in connection with documents she had submitted to a court.
Annells who is 56 has pleaded not guilty to one count of committing an act intended to pervert the course of justice, one of attempted fraud and one of possessing a false instrument. She is accused of using a memorandum of understanding (MOU) for the sale of her business, AzureTax, for a consideration of US$1 million in an attempt to secure a tenancy for office premises and by way of support for an application to vary the terms of her bail. Subsequent investigations by the police, according to Prosecutor John Marray, showed that the original terms of the MOU were HK$1 million.
At the time of the offences in April 2014 Annells, in a separate case, faced charges of fraud and theft involving millions of Hong Kong dollars. She was on bail at the time but wanted to vary the terms of her bail so that she could retrieve her passport which was being held by the police and travel to the UK to visit her sick father. The police objected fearing that she was a flight risk, the court was told.
Invited by her counsel Paul Stephenson to explain how the MOU for US$1 million for the sale of her business, to Zetland Fiduciary Group, came into existence, Annells told the court she asked a member of her staff to prepare. Annells said that she was unhappy with Zetland’s valuation of the company and had been thinking about the ‘true value’ of the business. “I came to the figure of HK$8 million as a value I would accept in total”
Under cross-examination she described this copy as a working document or an “affirmation” of what she wanted to happen. Asked for clarification by Judge Eddie Yip Chor-man, she said it was, “ a common technique used by people to wish things into existence.”
The original MOU had been initialled on every page by Annells and Francis Chew, general manager at Zetland. Annals’ had also initialled her ‘affirmation copy. “Asked why she had done this Annells replied, “I initialled it to confirm this was what I agreed to.” Marray suggested it made no sense for her to initial the document since it was a note for her own use. “It did to me because it is part of the affirmation,” replied Annells. Francis Chew had earlier testified that his purported initials on this “affirmation copy “ of the MOU were false. Marray asked Annells who had forged Chew’a signature. “I don’t know,” said Annells. “When I was arrested I was totally baffled as to what had gone on because at the time I did my initials, there was no other initial there.”
Explaining how the MOU for US$1 million had been sent to the solicitors for the landlord of the premises she was trying to rent in Sea Bird House, and also to her own solicitor Christopher Morley, she said she made a mistake. “I was under enormous pressure and very stressed during what was probably the most frenetic two years of my life, “ she said referring the period around late March and early April last year.
She had received a letter from the landlord’s solicitor saying that since the initial cheque she had sent them for the deposit had bounced, the landlord wanted a bank guarantee. Annells told the court she sent a letter to the landlord together with the MOU for US$1 million to give them some “comfort” that she was selling her business to Zealand. She said she looked for the original MOU on her company server and since she couldn’t find it she picked up her ‘affirmation’ copy and asked a staff member to both copy and scan it. The photocopy was sent to the Sea Bird House landlord’s solicitors. She attached a scanned version of the MOU for US$1 million to an email she sent to Morley. “These were just unfortunate mistakes made under great pressure, “ she told the court.
She also told the court that she had not intended her solicitor or her counsel Kevin Egan to submit the MOU at the court hearing to hear her bail application. She claimed that she had sent the MOU to Morley to show that she had to be back in Hong Kong by May 2, 2014 to complete the sale and purchase agreement with Zetland. Marray pointed out to her that the MOU did not mention this date. “I made a mistake. I thought it did. “ she said. “What you were doing,” said Marray, “Was misleading your solicitors so they would mislead the court.” I totally disagree said Annells.
She had also claimed that the figure of HK$1 million was ‘totally meaningless” since the she claimed that negotiations over the sale of AzureTax were still being negotiated. Marray pointed out to her that the chairman of Zetland, James Sutherland, had confirmed that he had sent her an email confirming that his offer of HK$1 million was the best that he could do. Annells insisted negotiations over the value of the ‘overall’ nature of her transaction with Zetland had not been finalised.
Earlier Annells had told the court that the financial position of Azure Tax had started to deteriorate following a High Court case in 2009. She said AzureTax had paid out HK$10million in legal fees and costs between 2009 and 2014. The trial continues.