HONG KONG – A Hong Kong court has given prominent film mogul Albert Yeung Sau-shing leave to sue Google for defamation.

Yeung, whose empire spans jewelry, property and finance in Hong Kong and mainland China, is also chairman of the Hong Kong-based Emperor Motion Pictures group.

The case relates to searches for Yeung’s name on Google and suggestions made by the auto-complete function. In both Chinese and English versions auto-complete proposes the word ‘triad,’ a reference to Hong Kong organized crime syndicates, when searching for Yeung.

Yeung (pictured, right, with Chinese actor Ge You, left) accuses Google of libel and is seeking to have it remove the organized crime references.

Google had tried to have the case dismissed before it can go to trial. It argued first that the Hong Kong courts do not have the jurisdiction over the company, and second that Google cannot be held responsible for search suggestions. It argued that auto-complete suggestions use an algorithm driven by the search terms a certain number of users are using.

“There is a good arguable case that Google Inc. is the publisher of the ‘Words’ and liable for their publication,” said Marlene Ng, deputy High Court judge in her ruling.

Google, which maintains offices and staff in Hong Kong’s Central district, did not attempt to argue that the auto-complete suggestions concerning Yeung were not defamatory.

In 2010 Google pulled out of mainland China and relocated its Chinese operations to Hong Kong after it refused to censor searches according to the wishes of Chinese Internet regulators. Hong Kong is a Special Administrative Region of China, and has separate legislative and judicial systems from the People’s Republic. Unlike China, which maintains strict control of the media and the Internet, the press and web are not censored by government in Hong Kong.

In the 1980s and 1990s, when Hong Kong’s film industry was at its height and producing hundreds of films per year for export, triad involvement was commonplace. Gang members frequently attended film production locations and provide everything from ‘protection services’ to on-screen talent. In the last 15 or 20 years, however, such activity has largely disappeared from Hong Kong film and triad gangs focused on other business activities.

EMP is one of the three largest Hong Kong film groups, operating as talent management agency, financier, producer, and co-distributor. In mainland China the company recently opened the first of a planned chain of multiplex cinemas. EMP was this year involved with Dante Lam’s “The Demon Within,” which premiered in Berlin, and last year it was a co-producer of Johnnie To’s “Blind Detective,” which screened in Cannes. It was previously producer on Lu Chuan’s “The Last Supper,” Feng Xiaogang’s “Aftershock” and Jiang Wen’s “Let The Bullets Fly.”