The boss of a Hong Kong film prop company has been given a suspended sentence after being convicted of keeping some 200,000 fake bank notes labelled “props” used in the award-winning crime thriller Trivisa.
Cheung Wai-chuen, the person in charge of Wai Kang Production, was convicted and sentenced on Thursday to four months in prison, suspended for two years. His co-accused Law Yun-lam, who is unemployed, received the same sentence.
The court was told that the prop money had been used in the movies Trivisa and Wild City.
Magistrate Cheung Kit-yee said the defendants could not have lawfully kept the prop notes because they did not apply for permission from the Monetary Authority.
She rejected the duo’s defence that they were keeping the notes for film production and did not know about the legal requirement, since the only lawful excuse for keeping counterfeit notes is when a person is about to hand them over to law enforcement agencies.
The magistrate added that the notes, though labelled “props,” highly resembled real bank notes. She approved the prosecution’s request to destroy the props.
During the trial, film director and the honourary president of the Federation of Hong Kong Filmmakers Ng See-yuen told the court that he was unaware of the legal requirement to seek permission from the Monetary Authority, despite having worked in the industry for 50 years.
Cultural sector lawmaker Ma Fung-kwok also said he and the majority of people working in the film industry were unaware of this requirement.
After the sentencing, Cheung Wai-chuen was asked by reporters if he felt the conviction was an insult to his profession. He said: “They [the authorities] insulted themselves. You have been watching movies all these years, you have seen these props, and you didn’t say anything until now?”
Ng said Thursday that the conviction was an “international joke,” warning that it would deal a serious blow to Hong Kong’s film industry.
“We should never make crime movies again. We shouldn’t make movies that use props. Doesn’t this make people laugh?” he told broadcaster TVB. “No one knew about this requirement.”
The Federation of Hong Kong Filmmakers expressed “extreme outrage” at the prosecution and described it as an “injustice” in a statement issued on Thursday.
“Our 11 member groups, the Film Propsmen’s Guild and the sector’s legislator Ma Fung-kwok all wrote to the court testifying that the industry has always been disciplined in handling prop money and that we have never received any relevant guidelines from the government,” it said.
It said some people applied for permission from the Monetary Authority in light of the prosecution, but their requests were turned down.
“The government says it supports the development of the creative industry, but it imposes all these restrictions on filmmakers when their voices are already being ignored,” it said.
But actor and filmmaker Chapman To criticised Ng and Ma for claiming ignorance of the law. He told Apple Daily that Ma should have raised the issue in the legislature before authorities took action: “You are only trying to fix things after someone got arrested… that’s too late.”
Under the Crimes Ordinance, keeping counterfeit notes and coins without lawful authority is punishable by three years in prison.