Hong Kong police officer fined after being found guilty of stealing $1,400 left behind at ATM

A Hong Kong police officer was fined HK$15,000 (S$2,600) by a court on Tuesday after he was found guilty of stealing HK$8,000 left behind by a forgetful ATM user.

Lau Yuen-ming, 39, took money from an ATM next to the one he was using on Fuk Lo Tsuen Road in Kowloon City on July 5, 2017, the Kowloon City Court heard. A beeping sound drew him to the unattended cash.

Lau claimed that he thought the money belonged to him, but grew suspicious after he saw another stash of HK$8,000 in his wallet.

Bank records confirmed he withdrew money on only one occasion that day.

But instead of following the bank's advice to return the money, Lau revealed to staff that he was a policeman and explained that he did not want to trouble his colleagues with extra work if the money turned out to be his.

He further explained at trial that he had thought the money belonged to him because his other family members would put extra cash in his wallet for him to settle bills.

He also said he was under a lot of stress at the time following an internal job transfer and suggested there may have been an ATM malfunction.

It was not until he saw security footage from the ATM that he realised he had taken somebody else's money, he said.

The officer of 14 years stressed that he had not been dishonest when keeping the money from July 2017 to the time of his arrest on February 21 last year, given that he had called the bank.

But deputy magistrate Arthur Lam Hei-wei refused to accept Lau's "extremely unreasonable" evidence and found him guilty of theft.

"The defendant could not have forgotten which ATM he used within 12 seconds," the magistrate said after viewing the security footage. "The court is certain that the defendant was aware the money did not belong to him after making inquiries with the bank."

The magistrate also said the officer should have known the proper way to handle the case.

Yet he eventually decided that the defendant's occupation was not a reason to aggravate his sentence and fined Lau HK$15,000 on top of a compensation order to return the HK$8,000 to the victim.

This article was first published in South China Morning Post.