Often Partisan

Boardroom Politics

Birmingham International Holdings saw office politics spill into the public domain this week with news that former executive director Lee Yiu Tung had taken his former employers to a tribunal for wrongful dismissal.

Whilst it might seem on the face of it a non-story, I’m of the belief that this is actually one that is very significant and represents a development that will not have pleased BIH MD Peter Pannu and Chairman Carson Yeung at all. In fact, I would go as far as saying that if this one does make it to the court, the implications could be more damaging for the company than Carson’s criminal trial.

First of all, it’s important to look at some background.

Lee Yiu Tung was one of twelve people named in a document issued by the Stock Exchange on September 19 2012 with respect to various breaches of Stock Exchange rules. Mr Lee was named in the second group of people, who were criticised by the SE and were forced to undergo training on governance procedures.

He was then disqualified as a director of the company on January 11 2013 for failure to attend a board meeting for six consecutive months.

Finally, Mr Lee was directly named and criticised by Mr Pannu in his statement published on BCFC.com on May 6 2013.

I think therefore it would be a logical conclusion to state that Mr Lee would feel that his reputation may have been sullied by BIH in general and Mr Pannu in particular. As I’ve previously stated, reputation is a big thing in HK; it’s very important to be seen in a good and honest light and I have no doubt Mr Lee would not have been happy to have had various accusations banded about him if he believed that they were not true.

This is borne out by the fact that Mr Lee was prepared to go to an employment tribunal. The report on that tribunal can be found here. Since then, one thing has struck me – from my own experience, I know that HK newspapers do not cover every case heard in courts – yet this tribunal was reported in two newspapers (Oriental Daily and The Sun) complete with picture – which suggests to me that they were tipped off about the case and that the pressure points are being played.

The case was then be referred to a High Court as the tribunal judge feels that he doesn’t have the authority to deal with the complexity of the case, the ordinances involved or the number of witnesses to be called. Again, this is an inference but one would think that that means there is a lot of information to come out in the case – and as it relates to Mr Lee’s employment with BIH one could naturally assume that information relates to internal company documents and procedures.

This is where it gets interesting. As we know from Mr Pannu’s statement of May 6, he was not impressed by internal documents being passed to the press (such as the joint investigation held by the Birmingham Mail, Blues Trust and this website). If the case is heard in High Court, then there is no doubt in my mind that various documents will be read out, referred to and employees questioned as to what happened. If the court room is open to the public (and I have no reason to believe that it wouldn’t be), then that information all becomes public domain and can be reported on by the press – no matter how “frivolous” the accusations may be in the mind of Mr Pannu or Mr Yeung.

To take that a step further, one could infer that the absolute last thing that Mr Pannu or Mr Yeung would want would be for that case to go to court – whether they thought the accusations were frivolous or not, I am absolutely sure they would not want company documentation to be disclosed in the public eye to be picked over. However, if it got there it would also represent our best chance as fans to know what was going on behind closed doors in the BIH office. Indeed, the information would be no doubt more revealing than what is being heard in Carson Yeung’s current criminal case.

Therefore, what it comes down to is just how valuable Mr Lee’s reputation is to him, and how far he is willing to go to rectify what he sees as wrongs against him; and just how much Mr Pannu and Mr Yeung will do to keep the case from being heard. Of course it may well be that the case is heard after the club is sold to another party – in which case it will have far less impact – but for those of us who want definitive answers to how the company has been run I think it we can only hope it is played out in open court and that justice is done properly – whoever is right.

Due to the nature of this blog and on having received legal advice, comments will be closed.

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