Minister dragged deeper into row
The wife of development chief Paul Chan Mo-po refused yesterday to disclose the ownership details of her company, which is under fire for owning unauthorised subdivided flats - even as more land records pointed to her possible role in subleasing the apartments.
Frieda Hui Po-ming, replying to the South China Morning Post last night, said she could not name the shareholders of two offshore firms that own Harvest Charm Development, which she co-owns. Harvest has two flats in Tai Kok Tsui and Jordan: one is subdivided into five units, the other three.
'I am sorry that I cannot disclose the identity of other shareholders against their will,' Hui said.
Her husband, who took over as secretary for development on Monday, finally broke his silence and faced the media over the controversy, in which his wife is accused of having knowledge of the partitioning.
Chan said he was never a shareholder of the company and that he quit as a director in 1997, three years after the company bought the two flats. Hui resigned as director of Harvest when the new administration took office on July 1.
A Stock Exchange filing by Chan in 2003 described Hui as the sole owner of Orient Express Holdings, the major shareholder of Harvest. The other offshore firm is said to be Strategic Assets Holdings, ownership of which is unclear.
Hui - contrary to her previous statement that the firm was a family business - said in a statement that she was not a controlling shareholder, although nominally she was.
'I am a corporate secretary with a business providing agent service ... The two offshore companies are only registered shareholders of Harvest Charm and do not actually hold all its shares. Most of the shares are held in the capacity of an agent.'
More evidence surfaced that Hui may have known about the flats' subdivision. Her signature appears on an agreement with the Lands Department in 2009, which settled the outstanding land rent for the Jordan flat - showing she was involved in overseeing the property.
This emerged a day after the flat's principal tenant said a director of the company, Au Cheung-shing, was aware of the subleasing.
When Chan was asked about company ownership and Hui's relationship with Au, he passed the buck. 'I will pass the questions to my wife and let her answer,' he said, adding that he was ignorant about Harvest's daily operations. Au, meanwhile, could not be reached yesterday.
In her reply to the Post as to why she chose to quit as a director in July even though she claimed not to be involved in the company's day-to-day operations, Hui said her resignation hinged on personal reasons: her 90-year-old mother in Canada is frail and her daughter has started studying at university in the United States.
'I will be travelling more often to North America in the coming year. I think it is responsible to resign from the directorship,' she said.
While Hui plans to sell her shares in the company, the couple's explanations failed to address calls for full disclosure.
Political scientist Dixon Sing Ming said failure to do so would fuel public mistrust in the government.
Analyst Ivan Choy Chi-keung described Chan and Hui as 'cunning', saying: 'It seems to me the couple are trying to avoid a grilling.'