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Abandoning integrity for personal advantages

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Mrs Mo, a flat owner, commissioned an estate agency as the sole agent for the sale of a shop premises priced at $13.6 million. The company assigned Anna and Bill to take care of the matter.


One day, Anna found a buyer who offered to buy the premises for $14 million. As Anna could not reach Mrs Mo at that moment and had to leave office for an urgent meeting, she asked Bill to contact Mrs Mo. When Bill contacted Mrs Mo, he told her that a buyer had offered $12.8 million for the premises. Bill eventually persuaded Mrs Mo to accept the offer and sign a provisional sale and purchase agreement.


The next day, Bill told Anna that the shop premises had been sold to his client Mr Sung who was willing to re-sell the premises to Anna’s original buyer as a confirmor. Sensing something was suspicious, Anna reported to her supervisor that Bill might have breached the company’s code of practice by showing favour to Mr Sung to sell him the premises at a lower price.


While the estate agency conducted an internal investigation, Bill begged Anna to falsely claim that she had only met the original buyer who made the $14 million offer after the provisional sale and purchase agreement had been signed. Anna immediately refused.


In fact, the whole situation happened because Bill did not want to share the commission equally with Anna. Instead of co-operating with Anna, he wanted to handle the transaction alone. He thus sought assistance from his friend Mr Sung in buying the shop at a lower price and then re-selling it as a confirmor to Anna’s original buyer at a higher price. Through this way, Bill not only could receive more than $50,000 commission from both the buyer and seller, he could also share the profits from the price difference with Mr Sung. The estate agency refused to pay Bill the commission and reported the situation to the ICAC.

Case Analysis

It might seem that Bill was being clever, but actually he was being foolish. He committed a criminal offence of fraud under the Theft Ordinance and seriously undermined professional ethics by disregarding the interests of his clients. 


Bill’s unethical behaviour breached the Code of Ethics promulgated by the Estate Agents Authority. His failure to observe and comply with the law and the Code of Ethics might render him not being a fit and proper person under the Estate Agents Ordinance to hold license and disciplinary action might be taken against him.


On the other hand, the management of the estate agency showed zero tolerance for such malpractices by treating Anna’s complaint seriously and taking action against Bill’s unethical and illegal behaviour. Its integrity management enabled staff to understand clearly the ethical standards the company required of them and whistle-blow any misconduct in confidence. This could deter staff from further unethical behaviour. It could also attract and help retain ethical employees, thus helping the company to earn greater profits and goodwill in a long run.

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