Architect distances himself from row
Joyce Ng in Kuala Lumpur and Olga Wong
Malaysian architect Dr Ken Yeang distanced himself from Leung Chun-ying and Hong Kong politics yesterday amid a conflict-of-interest row stemming from a 2001 arts hub design contest that has implicated him and the chief executive candidate.
Yeang said that in the 11 years since his participation in the concept design competition for the West Kowloon Cultural District, he had not been informed by the city's government of the entry's disqualification because he was not the lead architect.
'I wouldn't know [Leung] from a bar of soap,' Yeang said in Kuala Lumpur yesterday during an exclusive interview with the South China Morning Post. 'I didn't even know [Leung's firm] DTZ has a branch office in Malaysia.'
Repeating his call for the government to disclose all contest records, Yeang spoke up amid what he said were increasing questions from the media and friends about his relationship with Leung.
The architect is also rumoured to have given Leung benefits in projects in Beijing and Singapore.
Responding to those claims, Yeang said it was the developer and not him as the architect that had appointed DTZ as the property manager or agent in those projects, adding he had 'no dealings with DTZ anywhere in the world'.
Yeang did not reply directly to questions on whether he felt troubled by the saga, whether he thought the government was problematic in its partial disclosures, or whether he would be comfortable in taking part in future Hong Kong design contests.
'I am a Malaysian running an international architect firm,' he said.
'I don't want to get involved in the politics of Hong Kong. The only way to clear this up is to make the records transparent.'
Yeang said he hoped the March 25 chief executive election would bring an end to the hotly debated topic.
He said the saga had not affected his business nor did he believe it would damage his reputation.
Recalling the contest, Yeang said his role was minor as he had not initiated participation but had been invited and paid by Ronald Liang, managing director of Hong Kong architectural firm LWK & Partners.
'We were the design architect and LWK was the submitting architect,' he said. 'We gave LWK the designs and that's all. LWK did all the administration and selection of consultants ... I did not sign any forms.' He said the only consultant he brought in was London retail designers Benoy.
Yeang said LWK was responsible for making all declarations of interests and the firm had not sought his input. He only discovered that the design had not won when he visited the arts hub's official website, he said.
Yeang found himself embroiled in the row after the government issued a press release last week saying Leung had failed to declare a business connection between DTZ and an entrant, later known to be Yeang and LWK's team, while he served as a juror in the contest.
The release said Leung's failure to declare the connection had led to the design's disqualification. Leung said he only found out after voting that a DTZ director had given the local firm unpaid advice on land values, saying it was a common trade practice.
The government is accused of timing the announcement to favour Leung's main rival for chief executive, former chief secretary Henry Tang Ying-yen. It said it released the information to answer media inquiries and to protect the public interest.