A pensioner who illegally claimed £68,000 in benefits while his wife is alleged to have “hundreds of thousands of pounds” in the bank has been told to ask her for help or be locked up. (h/t Dave)
Chung Fong, 75, who has been in the UK for 45 years, appeared before a judge at Cardiff Crown Court on Wednesday saying he did not have a solicitor – because they had demanded a £5,000 payment and he couldn’t afford it.
He also told the court he did not understand a word of English and appeared with a Cantonese interpreter at his side.
He was facing a sentence of up to three years having pleaded guilty in January, through an interpreter, to two charges of benefit fraud and having been urged by Recorder of Cardiff Judge Eleri Rees to seek legal advice before the next hearing.
He had also been told the same thing when before a different judge last December, said prosecutor Ruth Smith, who also told the court this week: “His wife is believed to have hundreds of thousands in her bank account.”
Ms Smith said if that was the case he would not have been entitled to claim benefits.
But when Fong, from Newport, turned up unrepresented for a third time he told Recorder Peter Griffiths QC he had been to see solicitors but they wanted £5,000 and he couldn’t afford it. “I was told because my wife had money I wasn’t allowed legal aid,” he said.
The court was advised that anyone with joint assets of more than £37,000 would not be entitled to free legal help.
Fong’s court-funded interpreter translated that he did not fully understand what was going on and was maintaining he could not afford legal advice.
He’d also had “a pile” of legal papers sent to him, outlining the case, before he pleaded guilty – but he hadn’t understood those either.
Fong was bailed again but this time told there would be a condition on his bail that he sees a solicitor within seven days and takes all the legal papers as well as his family bank statements, and preferably his wife, with him.
When it was pointed out that there would not be an interpreter at the solicitor’s office and no one would agree to fund one if legal aid was not in place the judge asked Fong if, after 45, years he had made any friends who speak English. “No”, he replied, in Cantonese.
Recorder Griffiths said he could not order Fong’s wife to go to a solicitor with him or tell her to pay for legal assistance but added: “I am told he has a good relationship with her and the court hopes he will be able to persuade her to accompany him. He should be legally represented either by having legal aid granted or asking his wife if she is, at least, prepared to fund representation at the next hearing.”
He told Fong: “The patience of the court is not unlimited.
“Tell him if he breaches the bail conditions he can be remanded to prison.”