May 29, 2018 / 11:48 AM / 5 months ago

Macau court orders $5,000 fine but no jail time for casino hub's youngest lawmaker

HONG KONG, May 29 (Reuters) - A Macau court on Tuesday levied a fine of $5,000 on the territory's youngest lawmaker, but no jail time, at the conclusion of a trial viewed as a test case of transparency and conflict of interest in the world's biggest gambling hub.

The lawmaker, Sulu Sou, 26, was ordered to pay a fine of 40,800 patacas ($5,060) on charges of aggravated disobedience over an unauthorised protest outside the home of the Chinese-controlled territory's leader, Fernando Chui.

Macau law provides for Sou to be stripped of his duties as a legislator if he spends more than 30 days in jail.

"Sou was found guilty and has been issued a fine," said the lawmaker's assistant Rocky,who did not give his last name. Domestic media also reported the verdict.

Sou and his lawyer were not immediately available for comment. It was not clear if Sou would appeal the decision.

Sou, elected a lawmaker in September 2017, has been pressing for greater government accountability in a push by the New Macau Association, a pro-democracy group whose members are in their 20s and 30s.

Among the group was Scott Chiang, who faced charges of aggravated disobedience along with Sou and was fined 27,000 patacas ($3,348).

As a lawmaker, Sou had immunity from prosecution, but 28 of the 33 legislative assembly members in the former Portuguese colony voted on Dec. 4 to suspend him so that he could stand trial.

Sou's case, which has prompted parallels with democracy activists such as Joshua Wong in neighbouring Hong Kong, was the first time a lawmaker had been suspended since Macau was established as a special administrative region of China in 1999.

While some activists in Hong Kong, the former British colony that returned to Chinese rule in 1997, have sought independence and taken to the streets to protest, Macau has seen little public opposition over the mainland’s policies in the enclave.

Public support for Sou and the New Macau Association has surged since last August, following the devastation wreaked by typhoon Hato, which killed at least nine people and left many residents infuriated at the government’s handling of the disaster.

Both Sou and Chiang had faced charges over a 2016 protest against a donation of 100 million yuan (11 million pounds) to Jinan University in China's southern city of Guangzhou, by the Macau Foundation.

The New Macau Association said there was a conflict of interest, since Chui was deputy chairman of the university’s board and also chairman of the trustees of the government-linked Macau Foundation that says it distributes to charitable, social and grassroots causes.

Chui’s office did not respond to requests for comment. ($1=8.0640 patacas) (Reporting by Farah Master; Editing by Clarence Fernandez)

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