An unlicensed private hire car driver who charged a Tanzanian health official about HK$3,800 for a trip from the airport to Tsim Sha Tsui was on Wednesday jailed for six weeks for carrying the passenger without a permit.
Despite finding him “utterly greedy”, the District Court acquitted Tong Yiu-wah of the charges of robbery and detaining the doctor against her will, as the judge did not accept that the woman had been “intimidated”.
The 68-year-old man was also cleared of a charge of theft.
But he earlier pleaded guilty to carrying a passenger without a hire-car permit and driving without third-party insurance.
He was also slapped with a HK$8,000 fine and banned from driving for two years.
The charges were laid after Dr Mosha Shakiwa Fausta Franklin, who had come to Hong Kong on November 16, 2015 to attend a World Health Organisation meeting, reported to the city’s police that she had been told by Tong to pay a US$400 fare and a US$100 bridge toll.
During the trial, the prosecution said the doctor had been approached by the driver in the arrivals hall of the airport. She was said to have asked the price of the ride before boarding the man’s Toyota Alphard seven-seater.
The Tanzanian claimed the driver had said HK$300. But when his car went past the toll plaza at the Tsing Ma Bridge, Tong was said to have threatened her into paying more.
The doctor was, according to the prosecution, then driven to an ATM and a currency exchange shop and confined to the car when she refused to pay up.
The court heard that the woman, drawing on personal experience of violence in her home country, had feared for her safety. She was said to have given all her cash – US$500 – to the man. She later called police when she arrived at her hotel, leading to the arrest of the driver two days later.
But Tong denied that he had said HK$300 or its equivalent at the airport, claiming that amount would not have even covered his operating costs. He told the court he was providing a “limousine service” and normally charged a “much higher” rate.
After hearing the evidence, deputy district judge June Cheung Tin-ngan said the doctor might have paid out of fear.
But the court was required to consider what the defendant had done and what he had in mind, Cheung said.
While finding the trip fare too high and “unreasonable”, the judge did not rule out the possibility that the driver actually thought the woman had consented.
“Certainly when she first heard HK$2,800 [US$400], it must have been a shock to her,” Cheung said.
But she said the foreigner would still have paid “reluctantly”.
The judge took note of CCTV footage showing the woman being taken to an ATM.
“She didn’t look intimidated. She didn’t ask for help though there were other people at the ATM,” Cheung said.
The judge added that she had reservations about the doctor’s claim that HK$300 had been agreed as the fare.
But she described the driver’s fee as “outrageous” and found that his greed could have hurt the reputation of Hong Kong.
This article appeared in the South China Morning Post print edition as: ‘Utterly greedy’ driver jailed over HK$3,800 airport trip