Despite spending more than three years in a Chinese jail, Australian entrepreneur Charlotte Chou will have to wait longer to learn her fate after a Guangzhou court failed to deliver a verdict today.
Prosecutors tendered fresh evidence, relating to two bank accounts, which they say proved Ms Chou was guilty of embezzling money from a private university she helped found.
But in a heated exchange, lawyers acting for Ms Chou slammed the prosecution for dragging its feet over producing evidence it could have easily obtained earlier.
“Investigators could have spent two months to get this information,” lead lawyer Chen Youxi said.
“Now we have had five appearances in court. It has taken nearly four years, more than three years. I don't know how we can continue in this fashion. I urge the court to deliver a verdict.”
Dressed in a blue tracksuit and a prison-issue yellow vest, Ms Chou appeared calm and smiled briefly at her supporters, including family, former colleagues and Australian consular officials in attendance in the small courtroom. Her hands were handcuffed and her legs tethered with rope.
She said the “facts were clear” in her case and that she should be proven innocent. She said the charges against her were an “insult” against her character.
After about an hour in court, judge He Chunzhu said the case would be adjourned with a verdict to be delivered at a later, unspecified time. Ms Chou was then led firmly out of the courtroom before being able to acknowledge her relatives, including her younger sister Fiona Zou, who flew in from Sydney.
Ms Chou's case has been mired in controversy involving feuding business partners and murky allegations of judicial bribery. Supporters of Ms Chou, including her family and former lover and business partner Lin Yongping – now in hiding from Chinese authorities – say minority shareholder Zhu Hanbang had paid Guangzhou authorities to keep Ms Chou in jail, in order to wrest control of the profitable university she established.
Ms Chou was first arrested by Guangzhou police in June 2008, while her then one-year-old boy, Lincoln, was asleep. She has not seen her son, who now lives with his grandmother, since.
She had served 18 months in jail on bribery convictions, before being released and immediately re-arrested at the prison gate on fresh charges of with embezzling millions of yuan from the South China Institute of Software Engineering. She has maintained that the money was merely repayments of a properly documented loan.
The case bears close similarities to a separate case involving Matthew Ng, another successful Australian businessperson who fell foul of the Guangdong judicial system. Mr Ng has been sentenced to 13 years in jail for bribery and other corporate charges involving his successful travel business, Et-China. His lawyers have maintained the criminal case has been orchestrated by a third party in an attempt to obtain the profitable Guangzhou business cheaply, after Ng rejected a buyout offer from his joint venture partner, a company owned by the Guangzhou municipal government.
Mr Ng is waiting for his appeal to be heard before the Guangdong Supreme Court.