Paper Money

Judge overturns prop money case

Prop money used in making a movie in Hong Kong was at the center of a criminal case that ended with the conviction of two employees of a movie company.

Original images courtesy of Apple Daily.

Hong Kong’s already declining film industry, once called the Hollywood of the Far East and one of the world’s leading film exporters, was nearly brought to its knees earlier this year. The cause was the conviction of a movie prop master of possessing counterfeit money that was actually the prop money that had long been used in local filming without any problems. 

Cheung Wai-chuen, a long-time fixture in the trade, was given a suspended four-year sentence earlier this year for possessing 230,000 prop notes. The conviction sent shivers throughout the trade.

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Then, in early October, a High Court appeals judge overturned the conviction. Judge Albert Wong Sung-haun ruled that the magistrate who delivered the original verdict ruled in error.

A factor in the reversal was Cheung’s argument that all 230,000 notes were not individually examined and that the decision could not be based strictly on appearance. Not only should each of the notes have been examined, Wong said, but there was also not enough evidence to show that Cheung knew the prop money could be declared counterfeit money under the law. He also remarked that although the notes had a props disclaimer on them, it was small and not easy to see and that they did not have the security features that are on genuine notes. Otherwise, he pointed out, they did indeed resemble real notes.

That is why they are called prop notes. They did what they were supposed to do.

The ones in question were used in the award-winning crime film Trivisa that was banned by Beijing in China proper because the authorities liked neither the content nor one of the film’s directors.

A second man convicted as part of the case earlier this year had borrowed 9,996 fake $1,000 Hong Kong bank notes from Cheung for a prank in 2016. He did not appeal his conviction. 

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