No going quietly when the mighty fall

PUBLISHED : Thursday, 17 May, 2012, 12:00am
UPDATED : Thursday, 17 May, 2012, 12:00am


It's a witch-hunt. It's a settling of scores.

I couldn't help but notice two news summaries on this newspaper's front page yesterday. One features a weary-looking Rebekah Brooks, former lieutenant of media mogul Rupert Murdoch and ex-CEO of News International, who denounced as a 'witch-hunt' and 'unprecedented posturing' a decision by British prosecutors to charge her and her husband, Charlie Brooks, with obstructing justice over the phone-hacking scandal.

Meanwhile, failed chief executive candidate and former chief secretary Henry Tang Ying-yen says he is disappointed that illegal structures at his property in Kowloon Tong have become the subject of an investigation by the ICAC. He says it might give the impression of score-settling.

How the mighty have fallen! To powerful people, any prosecution or investigation, however justified, must feel like persecution. The Brooks couple used to hobnob with the creme de la creme of British society, including past and current prime ministers. Through her tabloids, Brooks once exercised such a reign of terror that the mere threat of an investigation - or dirt-digging - by her reporters was enough to silence any politician or minister. It was freedom of the press run amok.

Back in Hong Kong, Tang says he has been co-operating with the Buildings Department to dismantle illegal structures at his Kowloon Tong property. While it is understandable Tang wants to keep it a civil matter, there is prima facie evidence that it could be a criminal case.

Key to the investigation is a huge basement built under the house owned by his wife. Was the basement built before or after an occupancy permit was issued in 2007? If afterwards, it is just another illegal structure. But if it was built before, it could be a criminal act involving the submission of a fraudulent building plan that did not include the basement. It would be quite an engineering achievement - and costly exercise - to build such a massive basement after the house was built.

The rich and mighty often think ordinary rules do not apply to them - until they do.