Pressure mounted on Hong Kong's embattled chief executive C.Y. Leung on Wednesday after a report alleged that he failed to disclose a U.S.$6.5 million payout from an Australian company, prompting opposition lawmakers to consider impeachment proceedings against him.
The Beijing-backed Leung, who has been facing calls to resign over his handling over pro-democracy protests, "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.
C.Y.Leung at a news conference, Oct. 2, 2014. (AFP Photo)
Leung's office responded to the report by saying he did not have to disclose the payment.
Pan-democratic lawmakers in Hong Kong said they would impeach Leung over the allegations, while the city's anti-graft body said any investigation into a complaint about Leung would be kept secret from him
"If we receive a report of corruption, regardless of who is involved, and if there is sufficient evidence on which to proceed ... Independent Commission Against Corruption (ICAC) officers must investigate it according to law," the ICAC said in response to media enquiries on Wednesday.
"If the investigation involved the chief executive, then the ICAC would carry out procedure according to the law, and would not reveal details of the investigation or any linked cases to him," the agency said in a statement on its official website.
'Serious conflict of interests'
Labour Party councillor Cyd Ho said the allegations suggest that a "serious conflict of interests" may have occurred.
"Apart from his duties as chief executive, Leung was also serving the needs of another company," Ho told the South China Morning Post
Meanwhile, the protests against Beijing's decision to restrict Hong Kong election reforms entered their 11th consecutive day on Wednesday, with hundreds of demonstrators gathering at sites in Admiralty and Causeway Bay on Hong Kong island, and at a busy intersection in the Kowloon shopping district of Mong Kok.
Last week, the pro-democracy protests had swelled to about 100,000 at one stage.
Civic Party legislator Dennis Kwok called on China's rubber stamp parliament, the National People's Congress (NPC) to "rethink" its ban on public nominations of candidates in the 2017 election for Leung's successor.
Kwok also called on the Hong Kong government to engage in a "genuine" dialogue with protesters.
While each of Hong Kong's five million registered voters will get a vote, only candidates approved by a pro-Beijing committee will be allowed to run, prompting pan-democratic politicians and democracy activists to dismiss the plan as "fake universal suffrage."
A demonstrator at the protest camp in Mong Kok, who gave only the nickname Antony, said he was feeling positive at the thought of Friday's talks between government officials and student leaders, however.
"This will be the beginning of a solution to this problem," Antony said. "But there will only be a resolution if both sides are in good faith, and don't stick to the framework laid down by the NPC."
"This is a spontaneous movement by the people, so any dialogue needs to deliver something the demonstrators can accept."Little hope for results
A second protester surnamed Loh said she had little faith that the talks would yield meaningful results.
"I think this is purely a political public relations exercise," Loh said. "I think they want to take the heat out of popular feelings."
She said she expects the protests to continue to shrink.
"Time saps the will and the spirit out of anything, and I think that fewer and fewer people will come," she added.
A Mong Kok resident surnamed Lee said that dialogue is the only way to resolve the standoff between pro-democracy campaigners and the government, and also to resolve any differences among protesters about how to move forward.
"They should sit down and talk about this, and then deal with things properly," Lee said. "They shouldn't impose their subjective viewpoint on other people."High-risk area
Chief police superintendent Steve Hui said Mong Kok remains a "high-risk" area and called on protesters gathered there to leave as soon as possible.
Police have said they will take action to clear protesters from the area, which was the scene of violent clashes between Occupy and anti-Occupy protesters last week.
"The police will carry out a full risk assessment and take all considerations into account before taking any action," Hui told reporters on Wednesday.
"To the people who are illegally blocking the highway: you are causing a serious obstruction and disruption to people's daily lives," he said.
"We want them to leave as soon as possible."
A student protester surnamed Tung said he was pleased to see students playing a leading role in the pro-democracy movement.
"We have more time than most people, compared with those who have to work," Tung said. "Our time is more flexible, so we can come out."
"A lot of people came out in protest, and we want to take that responsibility forward."Demand for resignation
Earlier, 16 pan-democratic members of the Legislative Council (LegCo) marched to government buildings to demand Leung's resignation over the use of tear gas and pepper spray against unarmed protesters on Sept. 28.
They also called for an explanation of the involvement of anti-Occupy protesters with "triad" criminal gang backgrounds in clashes in Mong Kok last Friday.
LegCo president Tsang Yok-sing defended his decision to extend LegCo's recess while protesters are still in occupation of major highways in downtown Hong Kong.
"The debate has become very polarized, and I have to take into account the proximity of large crowds with very strong opinions, with no police keeping order," Tsang told reporters.
"I don't think our LegCo security guards will be able to maintain order by themselves," he said.
Meanwhile, Civic Party Chairman Alan Leong hit out at pro-China lawmakers for allowing Tsang's decision to stand.
"The establishment lawmakers are overbearing and domineering, and have taken over a lot of committees that were originally supposed to be split 50-50 with the pan-democrats," Leong said.Campaign continues
Student protesters kept up their campaign for a continuing student strike on Wednesday, while the convener of the student activist group Scholarism, Joshua Wong, called on protesters to turn out in large numbers at the Admiralty protest site on Friday, ahead of talks between students and government officials over electoral reform.
An engineering student surnamed Chin at the Chinese University of Hong Kong, where the student strike began on Sept. 22, said only around 50 percent of students appeared to have returned to class following the strike, which escalated into a full-blown Occupy movement on Sept. 28.
"[The rest] are all in Admiralty and Central," Chin said. "The college still supports us, and the teachers are e-mailing stuff to us, to help the students."
"Hong Kong students ... aren't just on strike; they're speaking out loud and clear."
While student leaders said on Tuesday the government has tried to limit the basis for talks, constitutional affairs under-secretary Lau Kong Wah confirmed on Wednesday that constitutional matters would be on the table for discussion.
Hong Kong Federation of Student (HKSF) deputy leader Lester Shum said Lau had agreed to relay student demands for genuine universal suffrage to chief secretary Carrie Lam ahead of Friday's meeting.
"Lau Kong Wah just said 'OK, OK, OK,' and wrote everything down on a piece of paper," Shum said.
"After that, we didn't engage in any debate, and he didn't give any response to our demands or to political matters or their solutions," he said.
"The only way out of this is for the government to respond positively to the demands of Hong Kong people," Shum said.Reported by Lin Jing, Wen Yuqing and Lau Won for RFA's Cantonese Service, and by Yang Fan and Qiao Long for the Mandarin Service. Translated and written in English by Luisetta Mudie.