VANCOUVER, B.C. - Sexually explicit photos of some of China's most famous female stars spread like a virus over the Internet, and now the man who took them says he wants to protect the innocence of those women - even if it means refusing to testify in court.
Chinese film star Edison Chen told a Vancouver judge Monday he will not reveal anything of an intimate nature regarding any of the women in the photos.
"They have suffered enough. I believe it's wrongdoing to them for me to state facts that I believe are irrelevant to this case," Chen said in B.C. Supreme Court, where he was testifying for a trial taking place back in China.
"Do I have that right?" he asked the judge.
Justice Elaine Adair told Chen he was required to answer any question put to him that was relevant to the case.
"And if I refuse?" he said.
Adair replied that it may not come to that point.
The unusual hearing is taking place to get Chen's testimony for the trial of Ho Chun Sze in China. Sze faces three counts of obtaining access to a computer with illegal intent for allegedly stealing the private photos from Chen's computer.
Chen refused to return to Hong Kong to testify.
The release of hundreds of his photos set off a sex scandal in the celebrity-obsessed Asian nation.
The photographs, showing Chen in bed separately with eight of the country's best-known actresses and singers, surfaced on the Internet in January 2008.
Under questioning from Chinese public prosecutor Hayson Tse, Chen told the court he was shocked when the private, intimate photos appeared on the Internet.
Dressed in a black suit, black tie and tan dress shirt, the Vancouver-born star told a B.C. Supreme Court justice that he never intended for anyone to see the explicit photographs.
"I'm quite a private person, I enjoy my privacy I need my privacy," he testified. "This was never meant for anyone else to see."
Police say the images were illegally copied from the 28-year-old star's computer.
Chen testified that after he saw the pictures circulating on the Internet with file names that matched those on his computer, he concluded the pictures were stolen. He originally thought the photos were taken from a stolen computer but then came to believe they were illegally downloaded while his computers were being serviced at a Hong Kong computer store.
"It led me to believe they invaded my privacy and they stole my things," he said.
Chen said he didn't disclose his password to anyone and in fact had erased all the images from his computer before it was serviced in the summer of 2006.
"At the time I didn't know there was such a thing as encryptable data or securing your trash or doing any of that. So in my opinion, when I deleted the file and put it in the trash bin it was deleted," he told the court.
It was only after the photos and the scandal spread that he said he found out there were many ways to recover previously deleted files.
Chen became argumentative under cross-examination from defence lawyer Kelvin Lai.
He only grudgingly confirmed the names of four of the women.
Chen said everything in the photos between himself and the women was consensual.
"There was nothing forced," he said.
And he adamantly rejected a suggestion from Lai that he'd moved the pictures to devices other than his computer.
"There's no way I would make these photos mobile like that."
Chen told the trial earlier that he went on the Internet to see the photos shortly after his friends started contacting him about the Internet pictures.
"It was more of an attack - a well-planned attack. In the way the images were released. Meaning they were in spurts, like two or 20. The next day it would be 80 and then another day it would be 100," he testified.
The testimony had been expected to last five days, but both the prosecution and defence completed their questions Monday.
He'll will return Tuesday to read and sign the court transcript.
Chen, a rap singer and star of a popular series of Hong Kong action films, apologized last year for the scandal and quit the entertainment business, recently returning to his childhood home of British Columbia.
Dozens of Chinese-language and English-language photographers and media gathered at the B.C. court for Chen's appearance but the crowd paled in comparison to the throngs that followed the Chinese star in the early days of the scandal.
At one appearance more than 80 police officers had to form a human chain around his car as an estimated 400 members of the media and fans clamoured for a glimpse of the star.
Some of the pages hosting the photos of Chen received more than 25 million hits, and the fan feeding frenzy crashed the web in Hong Kong.
At the Vancouver courthouse, just one man held up a life-size picture of Chen at the court's front doors.