Doubts raised over minister's wife

PUBLISHED : Friday, 03 August, 2012, 12:00am
UPDATED : Wednesday, 15 August, 2012, 10:54pm


Doubts have arisen over whether the wife of new development chief Paul Chan Mo-po was really unaware of illegally subdivided flats in Kowloon.

The concerns stem from yesterday's revelations by the principal tenant, Wu Ho-yin, that he had told a director of the couple's firm, Harvest Charm Development, which owned the flats.

Chan and his wife Frieda Hui Po-ming had been directors of the company, which owned the two flats, in Tai Kok Tsui and Jordan, that were divided into three to five units each.

Wu, who denied on Wednesday that Hui's company was informed of the illegal division, said the leaseholder waived two months' rent, allowing him more time to look for sub-tenants. The leaseholder, Au Cheung-shing, is a director of Hui's firm since 1995.

Hui did not respond yesterday to questions.

The revelation raised questions over whether Hui was telling the truth in her statement on Wednesday in which she tried to distance herself from the scandal that is undermining the integrity of Chief Executive Leung Chun-ying's new administration and her husband.

On Monday, Chan took over as development chief after Mak Chai-kwong resigned less than two weeks on the job following his arrest by the ICAC over housing allowances.

Chan and Hui have not faced the public but only issued a statement.

In the statement, Hui hinted that both she and Harvest Charm had not been informed of the flat division. She said a lease condition specified that a tenant should not sublet the flats. She also said she was not involved in the firm's daily operations.

Many questions still remain unanswered, including who the firm's shareholders are and why she chose to quit as a director of the company on July 1, when the new government took office.

Records show Harvest Charm's shareholders are two offshore companies, which also own the couple's Leighton Hill home in Causeway Bay.

After media questions over the past two days, Wu, who earns his living by subletting divided flats, said he took responsibility for the unauthorised works because he did not want to shift the blame to Au, 70.

'He's my life-saver. He tipped me off on flats for leasing. He didn't increase the rent in the past few years and even did not receive rent from me for two months to allow me more time to look for tenants,' said Wu, who may face a maximum fine of HK$100,000 for blocking a fire exit.

Wu sublets at least 10 properties in Yau Tsim Mong and Wan Chai. He also owns a Tai Po flat, yielding a monthly income of about HK$30,000. Eight of the divided flats are 80 sq ft to more than 100 sq ft, and rented out at HK$1,300 to HK$2,300. Some have no windows and blocked a fire escape. He hoped the Buildings Department would allow him to restore the flats before considering prosecution.

A tenant introduced Wu to Au, who leased to Wu a Tai Kok Tsui property for HK$4,000 in 2006 and another property in Jordan at HK$4,600 in 2010.

Wu's tenancy with Hui's company was terminated yesterday.

'I'm not making a huge profit and the subdivided flats provided the grass-roots community an affordable shelter,' Wu said, adding he did not know the leaseholder was a company owned by Chan's wife until he read news reports.

Chief Secretary Carrie Lam Cheng Yuet-ngor said the department, which would not report to Chan about his case, would be impartial.

While Lam sidestepped whether Chan should step down, Liberal Party honorary chairman James Tien Pei-chun called for Chan's resignation.