The Fanling Conspiracy

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Ben looked at impassively at the two men. For years he had been waiting for the big one, as all small practitioners did, the one that would enable him to retire. Certainly the two men sitting in front of him did not give Ben the impression of riches, indeed exactly the opposite. Rosenthal wore a threadbare blue suit with what looked like curry stains on his white shirt, whereas Ah Wai was grinding his knuckles in a rather alarming manner. Nevertheless, you never know, he might get a few grand out of them.

“Yes, well, gentlemen, I’m always partial to a few million dollars, please go on.”

Rosenthal stared at Ben. “I know you will find this difficult to believe, Mr. McCann, but we are in the position to make you a lot of money. It’s like this...”

Ben spent the next ten minutes transfixed as Rosenthal spun a yarn about old Chinese temples, corrupt Government officials and centuries old Chinese customs. Rosenthal said that Ah Wai himself was a “Tang” (“with a law degree”). The Tang Clan were historically owners of a temple situated in the hills above Fanling in the New Territories. According to Rosenthal, the Tangs built the temple in the mid 1400’s, and had worshipped there ever since. In the 1960’s, however, the Hong Kong Government unilaterally and wrongfully appointed as manager of the temple someone other than a Tang, the result being not only that substantial lands belonging to the temple were surrendered to the Government for a fraction of their value, but the temple itself passed out of the control of the Tang Clan.

The Tangs had complained bitterly about the situation to the Government in a series of letters over the past twenty years or so, but to no avail. In legal proceedings commenced in 1992, the Government applied for and successfully obtained a Court Order making the temple and its lands a charity for the benefit of the public. The Tangs found out about the Order and applied, successfully, to become a party to the proceedings.

“The issue before the court, Mr. McCann” said Rosenthal, “will therefore be one of ownership of the temple – who owns it? – The Tangs, Reverend Wah, who is the present occupant and abbot, or the Hong Kong Government holding on behalf of the public as a charitable trust? With the right of ownership will come damages in the sum of around HK$500 million. That’s about 40 million sterling, I believe. And we’re looking for solicitors to take on this case. Our clients are very wealthy, Mr. McCann.”

Ben continued to stare at Rosenthal, more glassy-eyed by the minute. He had hardly understood a word of what Rosenthal had said but he did understand HK$500 million. And very wealthy. And he wanted part of it. He thought he’d better bullshit.

“Well, Mr. Rosenthal, this firm has a long history of acting for indigenous people in the New Territories, especially in land rights cases, in fact one was reported in the law journals only recently, I think, or was it.....”

“Cut the crap, Mr. McCann,” said Rosenthal, and Ah Wai grinned. “We know you have no experience of this type of work at all. But then again, very few firms do. We do know you have a solid reputation in litigation however, and on that basis we decided to, well, interview you, so to speak”.

Cheeky bastard, thought Ben, He was pleased by the solid reputation part though.

“OK, Mr. Rosenthal, do I pass the test?” said Ben.

“Indeed you do, Mr. McCann, but there’s one thing that we must ask of you”. Here we go, thought Ben. “Ah Wai and I know the ins and out of this case. I am in fact a barrister in the U.K., although I have not been called to the Bar. As I’ve said, Ah Wai has a law degree. We are not without legal training. We simply ask that you take us on as clerks in your firm to work on this case, to work under your supervision. We would expect a decent salary, of course.” Ben stared him in the eyes. Was this for real, he thought? “Well, Mr. Rosenthal, I would be happy to employ you and Mr. Tang, but you must understand I will have to speak to my partner about this.” Rosenthal smiled.

“I understand you, Mr. McCann. Well, I think that’s it. Perhaps you want to think about it and give me a call. But don’t take too long. Many firms are after our services. Goodbye Mr. McCann.” Rosenthal and Ah Wai shook hands with Ben and left.

Ben was rather stunned. This sort of thing didn’t happen every day. He had to speak to Dylan.

“Patty, leave a message for Dylan to meet me at the Delaney’s for lunch tomorrow. Very important.” Ben walked to the window and gazed at the multitudes thronging the streets of Wanchai. Finally, after all these years, a break!

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