Hong Kong Lawmakers File Complaints After City's Chief Executive Seeks to Influence Probe

2017-05-16
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Hong Kong's Chief Executive Leung Chun-ying (L) shakes hands with elected successor Carrie Lam in Hong Kong, March 27, 2017.
Hong Kong's Chief Executive Leung Chun-ying (L) shakes hands with elected successor Carrie Lam in Hong Kong, March 27, 2017.
AFP

Lawmakers lined up on Tuesday at Hong Kong's graft-busting agency to file complaints against the city's outgoing chief executive after he admitted trying to influence the outcome of an investigation into his financial background.

Leung Chun-ying is under investigation after an October 2014 report in the Australian media alleged that he failed to disclose a U.S.$6.5 million payout from Australian engineering firm UGL.

"I am being investigated," Leung told reporters on Tuesday. "I totally have the right to suggest the scope of the probe to the Legislative Council, and to provide relevant information during the course of the investigation."

Leung said he had a right to contact pro-Beijing lawmaker Holden Chow, who is a member of the Legislative Council (LegCo) panel investigating the UGL allegations.

But he made no mention of media reports that he or his staff directly edited a draft document later submitted to LegCo by Chow.

"The document ... incorporated several changes made by “CEO-CE”, suggesting that either Leung’s office or the CE himself had made the edits," the Hong Kong Economic Journal reported on Tuesday.

The draft document showed that lines relating to the scope of the probe had been removed and added, and wording edited relating to the background of the UGL case, disclosure requirements by the chief executive and conflict of interests.

"The Legco secretariat has notified lawmakers that a document submitted by Chow in relation to the panel probe has undergone several edits, purportedly at the hands of 'CEO-CE'," the paper said.

"Still, there is this question: Did he not cross a line by urging a pro-Beijing lawmaker to send him the document, revising it and then sending it back to the lawmaker?" it said.

Blurring the line

Leung’s action blurred the line between the executive and the legislature, the paper said, calling for Chow's removal from the committee.

"Chow and Leung directly exchanged documents without any hesitation ... This goes against the very idea of having the legislature function as a body that will be a monitor on the executive," it said.

Chow denied that Leung's input was clandestine, however.

"This document was an open one; Leung Chun-ying contacted me and discussed with me some of its contents," Chow said. "He had a few opinions about the contents of this open document, which he communicated to me."

"I considered them, and thought they were appropriate, and so I put them to the committee for discussion," he said. "I never sought to hide anything, and everything I did was in keeping with the regulations and the law."

The revelations prompted pan-democratic lawmakers to warn that both Leung and Chow could have broken the law, however, and a number of political groups reported the matter to the ICAC on Tuesday.

"It should be the committee chairman who asks the committee if they would like to invite him, pro-actively," Democratic Party lawmaker Ted Hui told reporters. "Or he should write an open letter to express his opinion."

"But instead, he chose to secretly amend this document through a committee member, covertly expressing his opinions," Hui said.

Leung misconduct alleged

Democratic lawmaker and former graft-buster Lam Cheuk-ting said nobody should be allowed to interfere with the work of a LegCo committee.

"Nobody should try to intervene in the work of the committee, directly or indirectly, and none of its members should allow such intervention ... nor fail to report any misconduct on the part of our public officials," Lam said.

"It is unthinkable that the subject of the investigation was able to discuss the investigation with those carrying it out ... and even to influence its scope," he said.

Political groups filed complaints at the Independent Commission Against Corruption (ICAC), alleging misconduct in public office on the part of Leung and Chow, were accused of conspiring to secretly shape the direction of the LegCo committee's investigation.

Lawmaker Claudia Mo from Hong Kong First said it was unacceptable for Chow to allow CY Leung to interfere with the investigation.

The Beijing-backed Leung allegedly "pocketed millions in secret fees from a listed Australian company in return for supporting its Asian business ambitions," Fairfax Media, which owns the Sydney Morning Herald and The Age newspapers, reported following its own investigation.

The paper cited a "secret contract" between Leung and Australian engineering company UGL, signed and dated Dec. 2, 2011, three months before Leung was chosen by a 1,200-strong pro-Beijing election committee in March 2012, by a margin of just 89 votes.

While there was nothing apparently illegal about the contract itself, Leung didn't disclose it during his election campaign, the paper said.

Reported by Lam Kwok-lap for RFA's Cantonese Service. Translated and edited by Luisetta Mudie.

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