Lawyer quits PolyU inquiry over conflict of interest concerns

PUBLISHED : Wednesday, 17 March, 2010, 12:00am
UPDATED : Wednesday, 17 March, 2010, 12:00am

Polytechnic University has replaced a member of the panel reviewing its subsidiaries and affiliates after concerns were raised over a possible conflict of interest.

Solicitor Vincent To withdrew from the three-member panel yesterday, five days after he was appointed.

To's appointment aroused concern among a group of the university's teaching staff, including Dr Fernando Cheung Chiu-hung, who had led colleagues in issuing an open letter on March 2 asking the university to explain its problematic financial account, and to improve its transparency and governance. PolyU reported a record deficit of HK$904 million for 2008-2009, largely caused by a HK$504 million loss on investments.

The South China Morning Post reported last Friday that To's law firm, WK To & Co, had acted for Eco-Tek, a listed filter manufacturer co-invested by PolyU and Lily Chiang Lai-lei, former chairwoman of the Hong Kong General Chamber of Commerce. The law firm had sent letters to Cheung and Ming Pao requesting a written apology for what it said were defamatory remarks in Cheung's letter, which the newspaper published.

In a statement yesterday, PolyU said: 'At the time when Mr Vincent To was invited to serve on the independent review panel, the university was not aware that WK To & Co Solicitors had acted for the listed company Eco-Tek and requested Dr Fernando Cheung Chiu-hung make clarification and an apology with regard to his open letter.

'Mr To decided to withdraw in order not to undermine the credibility of the panel. The university has to take and respect Mr To's decision.'

To's place will be taken by Daniel Yu, chairman and co-founder of AsiaSoft Company.

Dr Joseph Lee Heung-wing, chairman of the Polytechnic University Staff Association, said: 'I am happy to see our president [Dr Timothy Tong] addressed the problem so promptly. The president told me earlier that he would take action to correct the mistake but his prompt rearrangement was faster than I expected.'

The other two panel members are Dr York Liao, chairman of the Hong Kong Council for Accreditation of Academic and Vocational Qualifications, and Dr Andrew Lo, managing director of China Renaissance Capital Investment.

Apart from the loss of HK$904 million, there has also been public concern at other aspects of PolyU's operations, such as the granting of HK$1.4 billion in deals to firms connected to its council members.

Eighteen pan-democrat lawmakers asked the Audit Commission to investigate PolyU's accounts after the open letter was made public.

The university announced last Thursday that it was setting up the independent panel to review operations of 38 subsidiaries, with emphasis on the appointment of boards of directors, investment policies, financial controls and exit strategies.