Ku De Ta case: HK judge won't recuse himself

A Hong Kong judge has rejected a request to recuse himself from hearing an on-going case involving former Ku De Ta chief executive Chris Au.

Mr Au said there was potential bias as the judge's brother - a lawyer - has personal links with one of the plaintiffs, Mr Harry Apostolides. The judge's brother allegedly also has professional links with Mr Apostolides' brother.

Mr Au claimed the judge was biased and had pre-determined the case against him.

Justice Kevin Zervos noted that the "appearance of impartiality is essential for public confidence in the administration of justice".

But, he said in decision grounds released last week, it is "equally important that judicial officers discharge their duty to hear and adjudicate cases and resist unjustified applications for their recusal by tactical and manipulative considerations".

Mr Au and other investors are fighting over the $100 million from Ku De Ta's sale and how club profits were allocated. The dispute centres on their interests in a joint venture called Kudeta BVI, whose shares they held via Retribution Ltd.

The plaintiffs are investors, who include Mr Komal Patel and Mr Apostolides. They say they and Mr Au each held 24.17 per cent of Kudeta BVI.

But Mr Au says he had 35.5 per cent and that there was a deal to buy out his stake for $33.7 million.

Ku De Ta at Marina Bay Sands SkyPark, now controlled by L Capital Asia, was the subject of a five-year trademark lawsuit in Singapore that led to its rebranding as Ce La Vi, earlier this year.

Mr Au, in seeking the judge's recusal, noted that 12 out of 13 interim applications involving the case heard before Justice Zervos went against him or Retribution Ltd.

He further alleged the judge had referred him to the Attorney-General's Chambers (AGC) of Singapore over conflicting testimonies he had given in court but took no action against Mr Apostolides in a similar situation.

Justice Zervos addressed all the grounds raised individually. He said he came to know of his brother's link just after he first got involved in the case in January 2014 and had immediately notified all parties. None raised objections then.

Mr Au did not give a rational explanation for the delay in objecting till August this year, said the judge.

The judge also said it was not the case that "all but one" of the 13 applications he heard had gone against Mr Au. There were four in favour of Mr Au, and some of the other applications were so complex the decisions could not be said to favour either party. The judge noted Mr Au did not appeal against any decision.

He added that Mr Au's claim that Mr Apostolides lied in the Singapore proceedings had no basis on which the court could refer the case to the Singapore AGC, unlike the case for referring Mr Au to the AGC.

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on November 20, 2015, with the headline 'Ku De Ta case: HK judge won't recuse himself'. Print Edition | Subscribe