UPDATED- Alvin Chau, Suncity court case adjourned to September 19

The start for the trial of Alvin Chau Cheok Wa and other 20 defendants linked to the now-defunct Macau junket operator Suncity Group has been delayed to September 19, as only 10 defendants were present in court today (Friday).

The high profile court case involves several senior and middle management executives of former junket operator Suncity’s marketing, accounting, planning, development and IT staff, among others.

The criminal syndicate, allegedly headed by Mr Chau and assisted by other defendants in the case, caused the Macau SAR government the loss of HK$8.2 billion (US$1 billion) in gaming tax revenue between March 2013 and March 2021, as well as losses for the city’s gaming operators, the official indictment accessed by Macau News Agency alleges.

Five of the city’s six gaming operators — all except Melco Resorts and Entertainment — are also complainants in this case, filing damage claims against the now-defunct group headed by Mr Chau, and their legal representatives were also present in the packed courtroom of the Court of First Instance today.

Mr Chau and other 20 defendants — many of them are mid-to-high level management executives of Suncity in areas of marketing, accounting, finance and information technology — are indicted by the Public Prosecutions Office of Macau for illicit gambling activities, involvement in criminal syndicate, fraud, and money laundering, according to a copy of the official indictment seen by MNA.

Making his first public appearance today since his detention last November, Mr Chau dressed in dapper-style suits to show up in the courtroom today, but neither he nor the other nine defendants present had a chance to speak.

One of the 11 absent defendants was identified as Philip Wong Pak Ling, former head of Suncity’s finance operation, and his lawyer claimed today he was hospitalised and it was not known when he would be discharged.

Lou Ieng Ha, who heads the three-judge panel in charge of the case, said there were no official documents justifying the absence of Mr Wong, and handed down fines to him.

In view of the absentees, the presiding judge then decided to adjourn the trial to the afternoon of Sept 19, stressing the court will inform all defendants again to attend the next session.

“Not cooperative”

Judge Lou also engaged in a heated debate with lawyers of the defendants and complainants today about the arrangement of the trial, with the judge describing the legal representatives as “uncooperative” while the lawyers lamenting the rights of their clients might be harmed.

Due to the physical size of the courtroom and the large number of defendants and lawyers involved in this case, as well as the anti-COVID measures, the three-judge panel has restricted that each defendant or complainant can only have one lawyer attending the session, MNA has learned. This arrangement marks a change to the usual practice here that each defendant can have more than one lawyer or assistant attending the session in person.

MNA has also learned some of the defendants and complainants have filed written opinions to the judges about their concerns before the start of the trial today.

Many legal representatives took the chance to voice their dissatisfaction today. Lawyer Pedro Leal, who was said to be the representative of Mr Chau, said owing to the extensive information and documents involved in this case, it was necessary for defendants to have more than one lawyer representing them in the courtroom.

He stressed the lack of space is a problem for the court to resolve but not the defendants, and he went further to say this arrangement was “disrespectful”.

João Nuno Riquito, who represents an affiliate of gaming operator MGM China Holdings, also requested today that each defendant or complainant should be allowed to have two legal representatives in each session of the trial.

Some other lawyers also argued that the current arrangement might harm the interests of their clients and it is necessary for the court to “defend justice”.

“Don’t waste time”

But Judge Lou interrupted the speeches of several legal representatives today. She said the current arrangement was made to comply with the current anti-COVID measures as Macau has only recovered from the city’s worst community outbreak between June and July.

The court “has exhausted all means” to make the current arrangement to accommodate all parties, for instance, the courtroom in which this case is heard is the largest courtroom for the criminal courts of the Court of First Instance, she illustrated.

Concerning the suggestion from some lawyers that public seating in the courtroom can be converted to the seating for more lawyers, Judge Lou refuted this idea and emphasised that it is necessary to have public seating to prevent an impression that “this trial is done behind closed doors”.

The presiding judge even went further to say the responses from lawyers today showed that the lawyers “did not want to cooperate with the court and have other motives”, urging the lawyers to “be cooperative” and “have less negative emotions”.

Judge Lou also said multiple times today that if the lawyers found the current arrangement uncomfortable or the amount of documents involved in the case too overwhelming for them, they should think whether they were fit for the job and continue to represent their clients.

She also made her stance clear today that “lawyers should try to make their speeches simple,” she told the courtroom.

“If lawyers take turns to speak [on the same topic]… how can this trial proceed?” she said. “Don’t waste time here.”

“There are always more solutions than hurdles,” she reminded all the legal representatives today.

“In good condition”

Given the size of the courtroom and the number of people involved in this case, the public seating of the session today only allowed less than 20 individuals from the general public, most of them supposed to be family relatives and friends of the defendants.

Chau Pak Ho, eldest son of Alvin Chau

One of them was Chau Pak Ho, the eldest son of Alvin Chau. Speaking to the media today outside the courtroom, the younger Chau said his father “is in good condition” but he refrained from answering questions about the court proceedings.

MNA understood a total of 92 witnesses will be asked to testify in this trial and more than 15,000 pages of documents are involved in this case.