Tax consultant Deborah Annells has been found guilty in the District Court of charges that include fraud, and perversion of the course of justice. Annells who is well known in expatriate circles having been a previous president of Rotary and a member of the general committee of the British Chamber of Commerce in Hong Kong was also found guilty on a third charge of possession of a false instrument. The judge had indicated at a previous hearing that the prosecution would have difficulty in establishing a case that Annells had in her possession a false document which she intended to use. After that hearing the court today heard that prosecution counsel John Marray had written to the judge suggesting that the lesser charge of possessing a false document be adopted on he same facts as the original charge. Judge Eddie Yip Chor-man accepted this suggestion and found her guilty of the lesser charge.
Mitigation will be heard on November 24th, and the judge said that sentencing would probably occur at a later date. In the meantime Annells was remanded in custody.
The charges on which she has been found guilty relate to events that occurred in April 2014. At that time she was already on police bail having been charged in November 2013 and again in February 2014 with a total of 55 counts of theft and fraud involving more than HK$36 million. This is a separate case which is due to be heard in the High Court in June next year.
The court heard that in April last year she attempted to secure the variation of her bail terms so that she could retrieve her passport that was being held by the police and travel to the UK to visit her sick father. The court heard in evidence that she gave her solicitor Christopher Morley a memorandum of understanding (MOU) which stated that she had had agreed to sell her business to Zetland Fiduciary Group for US$1 million. The court heard that this was submitted to the magistrates court by her counsel Kevin Egan to support the claim that she was not a flight risk. She also submitted a provisional tenancy agreement from the landlord of an office in Seabird House in Ice House Street, Central. The magistrate granted the variation against the wishes of the police.
After the hearing the police subsequently discovered that the original MOU was for HK$1 million and that the document submitted to the court was a forgery. The police also discovered that Annells had sent the forged MOU to the landlord of the Seabird House office as an indication of her apparent financial strength.
Annells’ counsel Paul Stephenson had told the court that Annells defence for her actions was that she was under enormous stress at the time and had sent the forged MOU to the landlord and to her solicitor by mistake. She had not intended the MOU to be presented to the court.
Judge Yip said he didn’t believe her evidence. “The purpose for her use of the US dollar MOU was to seek to mislead the landlord into believing AzureTax was a valuable business venture that was financially sound and possibly worth the equivalent of US$1 million.”
Not only did she intend to deceive the magistrate she also intended and managed to deceive Morley and Egan, with Egan submitting the document which he believed was genuine to the magistrate,” he said.
In explaining how the forged MOU came into existence, Annells had told the court that she had asked one of her staff to change the original MOU for HK$1 million to the higher amount as “an affirmation,” of what she wanted to happen. The judge said he did not believe her evidence. She had told the court that her actions “were just unfortunate mistakes made under great pressure.” It was a view that was not shared by the judge.
The defence counsel Paul Stephenson, also made an application on behalf of his instructing solicitors, who had been appointed by the legal aid department, for a review of their fee in view of the complexity of the case.