Hong Kong to Probe 'Bag-Gate' Amid Accusations of Abuse of Power

china-aircrew-april182016.jpeg Hong Hong protesters call for report on security lapse in airport baggage handling, April 17, 2016.

Hong Kong's Airport Authority is to produce a report explaining how staff at the city's international airport delivered a piece of left-behind luggage to the daughter of chief executive Leung Chun-ying, amid accusations that he put pressure on them to skip full security procedures.

More than 1,000 people gathered at Hong Kong International Airport on Sunday in protest at allegations that Leung used his privilege to fast-track his daughter Leung Chung-yan's bag through security in her absence after she left it behind in the departure hall.

Some held placards calling for Leung's resignation, while others chanted "Keep Hong Kong Skies Safe!" during the three-hour sit-in the international arrivals hall.

Protest organizers the Hong Kong Cabin Crew Association said some 2,500 people took part over the three-hour period.

Carol Ng, secretary-general of the association, said they expect to wait no longer than a week for the report to be made public, and called on the city's civil aviation department (CAD) to give a full account of the incident.

"We are calling on the CAD to sit down for a meeting and a dialogue with the Cabin Crew Association," Ng said. "If they totally fail to respond, then we will continue our protests."

"I won't go as far as to say we'll escalate them."

'Special privileges'

A protester who gave only her surname Chan said she is sick of what she sees as the abuse of power by Leung.

"There was no reason to extend special privileges in this case," Chan said. "There are also security concerns, which will damage Hong Kong image internationally."

According to the pro-democracy Apple Daily newspaper, Leung abused his political power to have the forgotten bag brought to his 23-year-old daughter as she waited to board a flight to the United States last month, a version of events that Leung has denied.

However, the accusations have continued to dog him, prompting even pro-Beijing politicians to call for clarification of the incident, dubbed "bag-gate" on social media.

"I think it will attract attention from all over the world about our governance, particularly the behaviour of the [Chief Executive] himself," New People's Party lawmaker, Michael Tien said on Monday, calling for more details.

Tien told government broadcaster RTHK it appeared there was ample time for Leung Chung-yan to fetch the bag herself and go back through security to catch her flight.

Politically embarrassing

The incident could be politically embarrassing for Leung, who was widely reviled in public during the 2014 Occupy Central protests, should he seek a second term in office next year.

While next year's election for chief executive will be decided by an electoral committee of just 1,200 members hand-picked by Beijing, Leung was elected with just 689 of those votes in 2012.

The Occupy Central movement campaigned for Beijing to withdraw an Aug, 31, 2014 electoral reform plan, which it rejected as "fake universal suffrage," and to allow publicly nominated candidates to run for chief executive in 2017.

The plan, which offered one-person, one-vote in 2017 elections for chief executive, but required candidates to be vetted by Beijing, was voted down on June 18, 2015 by 28 votes to eight in Hong Kong's Legislative Council, leaving the city with its existing voting arrangements still in place.

The Hong Kong government said initial inquiries showed that security hadn't been breached, as the bag was security-checked in its owner's absence.

"The Airport Authority Hong Kong will submit a report on the case to the government," it said in a statement on its official website.

"Upon reviewing the report, appropriate follow-up action will be taken as necessary," it said.

'Put under pressure'

Pro-Beijing politician David Chu said he still has suspicions of abuse of power.

"Somebody used special privilege to make a phone call, but why has everyone connected to the incident now ducked for cover?" Chu said.

"This makes me very suspicious that pressure has been brought to bear on them not to tell the truth about what really happened."

"I don't think that anyone in Hong Kong should be pressured into hiding the truth, nor do I want to see anyone in Hong Kong put under pressure by a phone call from high places."

Veteran media commentator Cai Yongmei said many in Hong Kong feel the city, which was promised the continuation of its existing freedoms under the terms of the 1997 handover, has become less democratic and transparent since then.

"Hong Kong may not have had a democratic system in the British era, but the last governor came from a democratic society, and there were checks and balances and rule of law, and he respected public opinion in Hong Kong," Cai said.

"Leung Chun-ying doesn't want to listen to the opinions of Hong Kong people; he just does whatever Beijing wants."

"Now that his wife and daughters are in a place of power, they have started to act just like high-ranking officials in mainland China," she said.

Reported by Wong Si-lam for RFA's Cantonese Service, and by Gao Shan for the Mandarin Service. Translated and written in English by Luisetta Mudie.

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