Hong Kong’s leader has confirmed his role in amending proposals in a document to change the scope of a Legislative Council investigation into him, claiming that he was completely “within his rights” to ensure that the probe was “comprehensive” enough.
Speaking to reporters before Tuesday morning’s Executive Council meeting, Chief Executive Leung Chun-ying admitted that he had indeed submitted revisions to pro-establishment lawmaker and investigation committee vice-chairman Holden Chow Ho-ding.
“In the first one or two meetings, [Chow] brought up some points – which in my opinion was not necessary – that he felt did not need to be pressed further. So I discussed with him and he agreed,” Leung said. “So I passed him the document that I revised to include all [additional questions] and that document is now revealed.”
The select committee, set up last year at the behest of the pan-democrats, is tasked with investigating a HK$50 million payment Leung received from an Australian firm before he became Hong Kong’s leader.
On Monday, opposition pan-democrats raised the issue after it was revealed that a proposal set out in a document by Chow to change the scope of the investigation may have originated from Leung’s office.
Multiple amendments made to the document were traced to the user names “CEO-CE” on April 21. Leung has not denied this.
Chow admitted on Monday that Leung had approached him and commented on the paper but refused to comment further as the panel’s closed-door meetings had not been completed.
Asked why he had targeted only the Democratic Alliance for the Betterment and Progress of Hong Kong lawmaker, Leung said it was because he felt Chow “spoke more” during the meetings and would be most likely to “agree” with him about expanding the boundaries of the probe.
“I am a subject of investigation, and I have the complete right to express my views to Legco of the investigation’s scope,” Leung said, adding that it was important for the probe to be wide enough to prevent any unanswered issues from resurfacing in the future.
Meanwhile, Leung tried to turn the tables on the committee, questioning how confidential information from closed-door meetings could have been leaked to the public.
“I believe Legco should investigate,” he said.
The committee’s chairman, pro-establishment lawmaker Paul Tse Wai-chun criticised “some members” who “chose to ignore or even blatantly breached the confidentiality [principle] of the meeting”.
He also said that Leung had never approached him about the scope of the inquiry and added that the committee would discuss the controversy at its next closed-door meeting on Wednesday or Friday.
But Democratic Party lawmaker Lam Cheuk-ting laughed off Leung’s demand for a probe into the whistle-blowing.
“Leung was not repentant about his interference … and criticised an act that exposed injustice,” Lam said. “Instead of saying something rubbish … he should really come and give evidence on the UGL agreement.”
Lam also said Leung’s proposed amendments would only lengthen the inquiry and divert public attention from the more important issues. He added that Chow should resign as lawmaker as he had “lost his credibility”.
According to a copy of the document emailed to lawmakers on April 26, “CEO-CE” had made a series of changes on the night of April 21. The text originally stated that the panel should probe “whether Mr Leung and UGL signed and/or executed the agreement”. But “CEO-CE” added that it should also cover “the authenticity and completeness of the document of the agreement as publicised by Australian media”.
After the phrase “are the terms in UGL’s agreement still valid after Leung took office as chief executive”, “and after UGL finished acquiring DTZ” was inserted.
Democratic Party lawmaker Andrew Wan Siu-kin, who is on the investigation committee, said any opinions Leung had about the probe should have been made clear and transparent.
He said any attempt to deliberately interfere with a legislative probe – if proven – could amount to a serious conflict of interest and a breach of the law.
“It’s unnecessary, it doesn’t look good – that’s basic sense – and it could even be against the law,” the Democratic Party legislator said in an interview on RTHK.
“If a chief executive and a member do anything under the table and it involves certain interests, then it could involve misconduct in public office. Not reporting it could also be against the law.”
Leung received the money in 2011 after engineering firm UGL bought insolvent property company DTZ, of which he was a director. The deal stipulated that in exchange, Leung would not form or join a rival firm.
Leung did not declare the payment to Exco and later said there was no conflict of interest. But a group of pan-democrat lawmakers was not convinced and formed a select committee in November to look into the payment.
Wan said three areas of concern to the inquiry were: whether there was a conflict of interest; whether Leung declared the payment; and whether he paid tax on it.
“These are laws all Hong Kong residents should follow. If [Leung] really did follow them, then we’ll give him the all-clear.”
In a separate development, Democratic Party lawmakers Ted Hui Chi-fung and Roy Kwong Chun-yu lodged a complaint with the Independent Commission Against Corruption, saying that Leung and Chow’s exchange could have constituted misconduct of public office.
Pan-democrat lawmaker Claudia Mo Man-ching and former lawmaker Gary Fan Kwok-wai, of localist group “Hong Kong First”, lodged a similar complaint on Tuesday.