Tuesday, March 21, 2006

The End
"So your reason for living and working here is over?'' a newsroom wag just cracked. Yes, the Annie Pang inquest is over. Here's the main story for anyone out there with insominia problems. Me? I think a stiff drink or four is in order, but I've no one to share and shmooze with about it. Hong Kong may be "Asia's World City" but at heart it's just another lonely town. Just ask Annie.
Accidental death or misadventure.
After deliberating for about four and a half hours Tuesday that's how Annie Pang died, according to the four woman, one man jury who heard evidence in the coroner's inquest which consumed 19 court days.
Whether she may have overdosed on sleeping pills (an empty blister pack of 100 was found on top of the trash and below her detached skull in her bedroom rubbish bin) or choked to death while vomiting or met her end after 31 years through some other accidental way, will never be clear.
Coroner Colin Mackintosh had earlier said that the law will only allow the jury to decide that the circumstances of Pang's death in the summer of 1995 in a Waterloo Road flat owned by her ex-lover lawyer John Fang were due to ``natural causes, accident or misadventure,'' or to render an ``open verdict'' -- which included all possibilities, including murder and suicide, but no single, definitive cause.
He had ruled out murder and suicide as specific causes due to insufficient evidence during the inquest which last seven days longer than originally scheduled.
Pang's family which had enlisted the pro bono services of solicitor and former Hong Kong film starlet Mary Jean Reimer -- who acted under the name Yung Ching-ching in 1980s epics such as Little Dragon Maiden and Holy Flame of the Martial World -- was unhappy with the verdict. In a post-verdict press conference two sisters, Pang Ngor Vee and Pang Po-yuk said they and their mother vowed to continue pressing for more information in a case that was officially closed in March 2001 and first came to lurid light in October 1999 when Pang's decapitated skeletal remains were found in a Yau Ma Tei apartment owned by Fang, brother of former chief secretary of administration Anson Chan.
It was determined by a pathologist that Pang lost her head after the tissues attaching it to her shoulders decayed after she died in about July 1995 alone, unmissed and slumped against a pink litter bin in a messy flat so small that it didn't contain a proper kitchen -- only a gas burner atop a washing machine in the bathroom.
Reimer repeatedly and unsuccessfully ``chased shadows,'' in the words of Mackintosh, in often wildly speculative attempts to tie Fang and others in Pang's sad, sordid world of drug addicts and small-time boyfriends to her death.Mackintosh patiently reined Reimer in daily and even occasionally rephrased her questions for her in an attempt to steer the non-criminal proceedings toward what he called an ``open and thorough'' result.
``No one is on trial, facing charges or being condemned, directly or indirectly,'' Mackintosh said during his instructions to the jury.
Pang's sisters and mother however clung to their belief that Annie -- from whom they were largely estranged during the last years of her life -- was not the heavily indebted, sexually promiscuous, near-suicidal drug and gambling addict described in court. They have maintained that she met her end at the behest of Fang whom they also believed tried to cover up his relationship with her following her death.
Supported by legislator Leung Yiu-chung at the press conference, the sisters repeated points that Reimer had tried to use as legal launching pads, including why a discarded condom found in the infamous litter bin wasn't tested for DNA, why a set of keys photographed by police at the flat were lost by police and minor inconsistencies in witnesses' memories who often tried to recall events and details stretching back more than 11 years.
``Words can't express how I feel at the moment,'' Pang Ngor Vee, Annie's elder sister, said. ``The verdict does not reflect the truth.''
It wasn't all harsh words, however. In a back-handed compliment, the sisters and Leung said the inquest was ``useful to reveal the extent of police investigation inadequacies'' and that it gave them more leads to pursue.
Pang's sisters reopened the case with a petition to the police and the Legislative Council in June 2005, which led to another inquiry. At the time they said they feared for their safety as a result of reopening the case. In September 2005, the coroner's office and the police concluded again that a public inquest was unnecessary. However Director of Public Prosecutions Grenville Cross SC made the first application in the history of the SAR for the Court of First Instance to order an inquest because ``it is in the public interest that evidence is presented and tested in light of suspicious circumstances.''
Pang's love affair with the married, older Fang began when she was about 19. The apartment in which she died was one of several he installed her in throughout their tumultuous relationship. Athough their relationship declined and she took a series of boyfriends, Fang also transferred more than HK$58,000 to an account accessible to Pang a few months before her estimated time of death in mid-July, 1995.
While Mackintosh said that the inquest had ``robbed [Pang] of her dignity'' he told jurors that he was ``sure that you will join me in expressing condolences to the family of Annie Pang.''
But even with an official cause of death to consider there was uncertainity as to how to formally describe Pang's profession at the time of her death. Media reports referred to her as a model, though except for many photographs it appeared that her catwalk career was limited at best.
Reimer once described her as ``quite wealthy'' and emphasized Pang's also brief stints as an insurance agent and stock and property speculator. There was also Annie Pang the pet store owner and dog breeder. Tax correspondence found in her deserted, dusty flat said she was unemployed.
``Choose whatever you think is appropriate,'' Mackintosh told the jury.
In the end, aspiring model, dog breeder, insurance agent and jilted lover of John Fang, Annie Pang Chor-ying, date of birth 25 November 1965, who died due to accident or misadventure at flat 1-A, 15th floor, Wah-Tak building, Kowloon, on or about July 1995 was listed as ``unemployed.''

Monday, March 20, 2006

Blinded by Science
A roughed out version of an interview with John Fang I did on Saturday. The interview will run along with the jury's verdict (they've been instructed to return a verdict of "natural death, accidental death or death my misadventure'' or an "open verdict'' which is a catch-all). Coroner/judge has said they cannot return a verdict of murder or suicide because there isn't enough evidence for either. I tend to agree with him on that, though I'm not sure about the suicide part. Anyway, due to the arcane and weird Brit press laws here no interviews with people connected with trials can be published -- or conducted -- before the trial is over.
The best part of Fang's interview if you want to fast-forward through it is how he described doing his own "scientific" test at home to prove to himself and friends why he never saw Annie's bones.

While he may not be particularly modest, John Fang is a good guy. Just ask him. He'll tell you repeatedly just as he told the coroner's inquest into 31-year-old Annie Pang's death that he's ``nice person, a generous person.''``You've told us that already,'' coroner Colin Mackintosh said at one point.
He picked up the self-promotional thread again in an interview with The Standard. ``I'm a good chump, a buddy-buddy kind of guy,'' Fang said.
His self-proclaimed generosity -- Fang admitted to depositing more than HK$58,0000 in an account set up for Pang in the name of another woman from January-July 1995 despite the fact that their physical relationship had ended long ago -- makes it hard for him to believe that others might question just exactly how he avoided seeing his old lover's bones on the floor when he went to the flat on October 6, 1999 to shut a window in response to water leakage complaints from a occupant on the floor below. A day later others tapped to go clean out the flat had no problem at all almost immediately spotting the grotesque tableaux.
Doubting Thomas's may also wonder why he never bothered to actually enter the flat until 1999 and why he seemed not to be curious about what ever became of Pang after her pleas for money stopped.
In coroner's court Fang said he was so busy avoiding injury -- and perhaps dying -- on the room's debris that he never saw Pang's remains as he scampered nimbly and quickly to close the window.
``It was very unhygenic and like an obstacle course and I remember climbing over something to get the window closed,'' Fang said.Out of court he said he even conducted a home-test.``I now have a better version,'' Fang said. ``This is it. This is scientific. I had people with stop watch with me at my home. I measured this equivalent distance and ran in, shut a window and then came back and said `stop!''
No skeleton or skeleton model was used, he said, but he swore that if anyone -- including Pang's survivors -- tries it in the privacy of their abode using a stopwatch and a few friends they'll find that ``if you concentrate you will have no time to see what is on both sides of you or below you.''
Fang blamed Pang's siblings and mother for some of his bad publicity because he has rejected what he called financial ``compensation'' demanded by them.
Pang Ngor Vee, Annie's sister and the last famlily member to see her alive in April 1995, denied in an interview with The Standard with ever hitting Fang up for anything except information as to her whereabouts. He said he refused because Pang had told him she was on bad terms with her sister and mother and didn't want them to know where she was living.
``Annie never allowed me to see them when she was alive because she insinuated that her mother is very greedy and would want money from me,'' Fang claimed. ``In 2005 [a daughter] wrote me and said, `if you don't pay we'll go to the press.'''
He said he almost caved in to their alleged demands but his wife -- the same loyal woman from whom he had concealed the relationship after he met Pang when the 20-year-old aspiring model and pet shop owner drifted into a bachelor party Fang was at in 1986 -- urged him to stay the course.
``Of course my wife doesn't like it. But she is solidly behind me and does not believe I should pay them. Two sons are really grown up and very supportive too,'' he said.He said he preferred not to comment on what his famous sister, former chief secretary Anson Chan might have said.
Why did he keep giving her rent-free lodging and continue to give her money, despite the decline of their physical relationship and what he said was an increase in friction between them?Well, he's a nice guy, of course.
`` I'm not the guy who cries over spilled milk. And I help everybody, men and women, who needs it and who comes across my path. Of course maybe I'm a bit of a sucker and stupid, too. Maybe I should have reported her missing to police. I wasn't so much interested in her anymore but I never kicked her out of my life. I helped her because she's a human being and she had all kinds of problems.''
Which lead to another explanation for not seeing her remains: Annie's cosmic gratitude for his generosity.``There is a Buddhist saying that during your life if someone owed you a lot of favors that they won't ever shock you by letting you see them in skeleton form.''

Wednesday, March 15, 2006

No more calls from John Fang, but there was some interesting testimony today by the fix-it guy who "discovered" Annie's bones. I had no room to add that much of his testimony consisted of "I don't remember," and "no" -- though when his memory was refreshed with earlier statements he gave police he grudgingly agreed that those were ''probably'' what he'd told them. And although he took five others to clean the filthy place, the only "cleaning" materials they brought were work gloves and jumbo trash bags...
The man who reported Annie Pang's skeletal remains to police a day after her former lover John Fang had been to same Yau Ma Tei flat and claimed to notice nothing amiss was heavily in debt to Fang at the time, the non-criminal coroner's inquest investigating Pang's death heard.
Yeung Kwai-choi, a former employee whom Fang earlier described as a ``jack of all trades, a handy man who was unluckily available to clean out the flat,'' admitted Tuesday under questioning by coroner's officer Dee Crebbin that Fang had filed a HK$2.5 million writ against him and that he had once borrowed HK$900,000 from Fang.
``After you went to the premises [Fang] didn't pursue the claim against you,'' Crebbin said.
``Yes,'' Yeung replied, but added ``the writ is still there.''
``He's never pursued it,'' Crebbin said.
``I did repay him,'' Yeung said.
``HK$2.5 million?''
``No,'' Yeung said without elaborating.
``Did [Fang] ask you to clean out the flat and to find the skeleton in exchange for not pursuing the writ?'' Crebbin asked.
``Not at all,'' said Yeung, who maintained he had taken up that task and others involving Pang when she was alive for free after he had left employment at Fang's former law firm in 1992.
Pang is believed to have died in the Waterloo Road apartment in July or August 1995 and her decapitated skeletal remains were reported by Yeung on October 7, 1999, a day after Fang said he and a locksmith entered the chaotic, grimy flat which Fang owned but claimed never to have entered until that day.
``You were prepared to do any jobs he wanted free of charge?'' Crebbin asked.
Yeung agreed, and called the task for which he took five other men whom he said also agreed to work for free, ``too trivial.''
Yeung said Fang had told them they could have electrical appliances and a television in the flat.
In describing his discovery, Yeung said he was ``shocked'' after peering into Pang's bedroom and seeing bones on the floor beside the bed. He said he called Fang who told him to notify the police.
Fang's fix-it man also said he had no idea and that Fang didn't bother to mention that the remains Yeung found might be those of Pang, whom he intially met in 1991 or 1992 when Fang sent him to check out a suicide threat she had made.
At the time Pang was living in a Sai Kung Spanish-style villa provided by Fang, though he rarely saw her there after beginning their relationship in the 1980s.
Yeung said Fang was ``too busy'' to deal with a lover who had cut her right wrist with a fruit knife and was sitting nude on her bed letting the blood drip into a glass when Yeung arrived.
``Had you ever been asked to do this sort of dirty work for him before?'' Crebbin asked.
``No,'' Yeung said.
Fang, who had described Yeung as the man he exclusively used to ``entice [Pang] to be a good girl'' when she was ``being mischevious,'' tapped him due to familial connections Yeung had in Sai Kung. Pang's neighbors reportedly called Yeung and Fang with complaints about her erratic behavior, including drug use, swimming nude and cutting other people's flower gardens.
Yeung also described himself and ``colleagues'' he had called from Sai Kung trying to calm Pang in a conference room at Fang's behest in Fang's law office in Central where she had torn wallpaper and damaged pictures. He claimed she scratched him and threw a heavy ashtray at him in the row which eventually ended in the Waterfront police station.

Friday, March 10, 2006

Big Bad John
Guess who called me at home at 1am Friday? My new best buddy, millionaire Hong Kong maggotweasel and Annie Pang's former paramour, John Fang. Turns out though that as with Annie, Fang is faithless when courting the press.
When I compared notes with my Chinese media peers at court later that morning I found he'd called them all with the same request. I was also crushed to learn that I'd been apparently last on his list. Fang, whose spoken English sounds unnervingly - both in accent and delivery - like Kahn Souphanousinphone, the wealthy insufferable Laotian neighbor of Hank Hill on King of the Hill, wanted copies of our notes regarding Coroner Colin Mackintosh's daily patient but increasingly weary sounding warnings to lawyer Mary Jean Reimer to focus her questioning on relevant matters.
He's upset because she pulled one of her "I submit to you that you caused the death of Annie Pang'' numbers on him last week and seems to believe if he can document that Mackintosh doesn't approve of her (hapless) attempts at pinning it on anyone who sits in the witness stand that she will fail.
I turned him down, of course and asked him never to call me again, at least at 1am. What I didn't have the late night/early morning clarity to tell him was that if he wants a transcript of the inquest complete with Mackintosh's pithy reminders to Reiner, he only has to request and presumably pay a small fee for it.
I also didn't have the presence of mind to tell him that he and Reimer are two ego-bloated clowns made for each other and if he wants a new mistress he might consider making a move after the mess is over.
Head and Shoulders
This just in...and no, she didn't take it off and toss it in the trash....
Annie Pang lost her head naturally, a forensic pathologist told the coroner's inquest looking into the cause of her death and the mysteries as to why it took four years for her skeletal remains to be found after she died apparently alone in a Waterloo Road flat owned by her married lover, lawyer John Fang.
While her skeleton was lying on its right side on the floor next to her bed, her skull was found in a rubbish bin that was lodged next to a wall and the bed.
Dr Hau Kong-lung told the inquest Friday that the skull was found upside down in the pink plastic trash basket but that he believed it was because Pang died with her head resting on the bin's lip. As decomposition took its course from the summer of 1995 until the remains were reported to police on October 7, 1999 the ligaments and tissue that held the neck to the body decayed and the head toppled upside down into the waste basket.
``The layer of hair had separated from the skull,'' Hau said. ``When we removed the hair we found the top of the skull on the bottom of the bin.''While he said a conclusion of how she died was ``unexplainable due to skeletalization'' he couldn't exclude that Pang died due to a natural disease, a drug overdose, a heart attack, poison, or during an epileptic fit.
Her hair contained traces of morphine and a syringe and packet of heroin were found in the disheveled, filthy flat. Coroner's officer Dee Crebbin has said Pang was epileptic and others, including a psychiatrist who saw her, said she admitted to being hooked on sleeping pills and to using heroin and meth-amphetamine, also known as ``Ice.''
Hau said there was ``nothing unusual'' about Pang's posture when found and said he found no evidence of any foul play. He also noted that an earlier mystery, two very similar photos in which Pang's right shoulder blade appeared and then disappeared could be explained because a photographer documenting his recovery of the bones was taking step-by-step photos as bones were removed.
``There was no evidence from the layout of her skeleton that the bones had been moved,'' Hau said. ``[Her posture] doesn't raise any suspicion to me. To me it looks natural.''
In a riveting display, he used a sketch, a life-size cloth dummy and a plastic rubbish bin to show the court how he believed the former model was lying and how her head separated from the body.`
`Unfortunately this rubbish bin is not not as large so you have to use your imagination,'' Hau told the five jurors. ``When the decomposition set in the bones began separating and when the neck and spine separated it naturally proves that if the rubbish bin is large enough the skull will fall like this upside down into the bin.''
He said Pang's bones showed no sign of damage, breakage or cut marks and that two right finger tips that were missing probably decayed.
However solicitor Mary Jean Reimer who is representing Pang's family was out for blood in repeated questions that focused on whether or not stains on a sheet, the rubbish bin lip, a wall and clothing found under Pang's remains were due to injuries. Hau attributed all the stains to fluids due to decomposition as did Joyce Kwok Ngan, a scientific evidence officer who collected evidence from the scene.
``Do you want a detailed lesson in the decomposition of a body?'' Coroner Colin Mackintosh asked Reimer at one point.
In another grasping effort to unearth chicanery behind Pang's death, Reimer also asked Hau if it was possible that the skull and skeleton were from two different individuals.
He assured her that the two were an exact fit when joined.

Wednesday, March 08, 2006

A Legal Matter
There have been moments in court during the headless Annie inquest where I've felt briefly like I'm in the middle of a Grade-B Hong Kong crime flick.
First there are her two sisters who -- because the HK tabloid and TV papparazzi are seemingly camped 24/7 outside the courthouse waiting for them and others connected with the case -- wear surgical masks to protect their identities. This is not unusual in Hong Kong which has what I've dubbed the ''surgical mask culture fetish'' meaning that even a sniffle or a sprained ankle seemingly triggers the compulsive urge to don one and look like an intern on Scrubs or a makeshift bank robber. But they wear theirs even in the privacy of the courthouse and courtroom where supposedly someone was trying to sketch them from the public seats during the start of the trial.
Despite the masks, they clearly enjoy the attention from the HK press and basking in the light of their wildly incompetent, though quite famous (and possibly clinically insane) attorney. More about her later. It all makes me a little queasy though, thinking that they're essentially exploiting the sad, lonely death of a wayward sister for whom they now demand a measure of justice (and no doubt a lot of money in a civil suit later) but from whom they were estranged at least two years before she vanished. The family never even bothered to file a missing person's report.
The court building is also a haven for "nutters" as the Brits say. I was buttonholed last week by one guy who'd been watching the case who told me he had an "important" law suit that my paper might be interested in. Turns out he's a disbarred lawyer who is suing the HK legal establishment for (it's from his suit) ''exposing their private parts, to whit their full assholes, to the bright sunshine of Hong Kong.'' Two days later he showed up in the court gallery decked out in full Arab regalia -- a burnoose, robe and Raybans. None of us dared looked him in the eye and fortunately he had apparently decided to let his costume speak for itself, though its message was known only to him and the little men who live in his fillings.
Then there's the lawyer for Annie Pang's family. She's an Amerasian named Mary Jean Reiner who is a former HK child and young adult TV star. She got her law degree about four years ago, about the time that she made headlines when a man she was having an affair with jumped out the window to his death from an apartment the two had rented in which to ''study. '' She was -- and is reportedly still -- married to a man two or three times her age whose claim to fame is choreographing, directing and acting in chop sockey flicks. He was the one beating on the door when her lover, with no place to hide and no kung fu skills, jumped.
Though now a lawyer she apparently still believes she's performing on TV and is given to daily courtroom drama accusations such as ''I put to you that you arranged the death of Annie Pang!'' without a shred of evidence and despite the fact that it's not a criminal trial. She has told the Pang family that her solutions come from Annie's ghost who visits her regularly with updates on her demise.

Thursday, March 02, 2006

Johnny B Bad
Headless Annie's married lover Hong Kong lawyer and politically/socially-well connected sleazemeister John Fang didn't show to testify today and the coroner/judge was plenty pissed. Fang keeps playing the "but my mommy just died" card and hizzoner is fed up.
Read all about it below.

If lawyer John Fang is a no-show Friday at the coroner's inquest examining the cause and circumstances of the death of his former mistress Annie Pang, coroner Colin Mackintosh said he will issue a warrant for Fang's appearance.
``I am extremely disappointed that Mr Fang is not here,'' a visibly irritated Mackintosh told the court and jurors Thursday afternoon following three days of testimony by Pang's last known boyfriend, truck driver Sit Ping-hung.Fang was scheduled to testify following Sit.
``If Mr Fang is not here tomorrow I shall use my powers to compel his attendance,'' Mackintosh said. ``He must be here. I take a very dim view of the situation.''
By ``powers`` Mackintosh meant that he can issue a warrant to compel Fang to appear. Fang would conceivably face a comtempt charge if he ignored the warrant.
Fang, the brother of former chief secretary Anson Chan and son of artist Fang Zhaoling who died nearly two weeks ago, has repeatedly asked that his testimony be delayed since his mother's death. On Wednesday he sent a five page letter to Mackintosh asking for another delay until March 6. Mackintosh denied the request and asked him to be prepared to testify on Thursday and Friday.
A senior inspector of the Organized Crime and Triad Bureau said he made several unsuccesful phone calls to Fang's mobile and fixed line numbers on Thursday in order to determine whether he would appear.
``I got voice mail each time,'' said Almerick Cheuk. ``I finally reached him at home. He said he would be here tomorrow but I think I need to call him again.''
The non-criminal investigation will be in its tenth day today. It was scheduled for 15 days but Mackintosh has recently expressed concern that it may run longer than planned.
The 31-year-old former model was missing for four years until her decapitated skeletal remains were found in October 1999 in a Yau Ma Tei apartment owned by Fang. Fang and a locksmith entered the Waterloo Road apartment to close bathroom and bedroom windows that had caused water leakage into the flat below. Both claimed they never saw Pang's uncovered skeleton surrounded by maggot casings, nor her skull in a waste basket on the floor beside the bed in the 300-square-foot flat.
The following day Fang sent a former employee to the flat to clean it. He reported the remains to police after phoning Fang.
Sit's longer-than-expected testimony was primarily drawn out by solicitor Mary Jean Reimer who is representing Pang's family. Using mostly minor inconsistencies in two interviews that Sit gave police in 2000 and 2005 and during his three days on the stand, Reimer tried to bolster a theory that Sit was never Fang's live-in boyfriend and that he was taking financial advantage of a woman whom others and Sit have described as deeply in debt to loan sharks, suicidal and addicted to drugs and gambling.
Reimer on Thursday described Pang as ``quite wealthy'' and said that her apparent interest in trading futures combined with a 1994 debt of about HK$80,000 to Inland Revenue was proof of her financial success and acumen.
However friends and acquaintances of Pang have testified that she appeared to primarily depend on Fang's largesse for living expenses and shelter in flats he owned after she became his mistress at about age 18.

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