Storeroom or basement palace?
Henry Tang Ying-yen, whose campaign for chief executive is embroiled in a furore over illegal structures at his Kowloon Tong properties, last night said he was not sure if he had even seen the floor plan for what is being dubbed his 'underground palace'.
Tang's answers at a press conference yesterday appeared to be evasive - a political ally called them 'hardly convincing' - and some of his backers were reconsidering their support for him.
One election committee member - a Tang supporter in the business sector who was considering withdrawing his backing last night - confirmed the existence of the underground compound and said reports that it contained a wine cellar and a Japanese bath were true.
However, Tang said: 'I have no impression that I have seen the floor plan before. [The basement] is now mainly used for storage.'
He said work on illegal structures at 7 York Road, now owned solely by his wife (Tang owns the house next door), began after the house was completed and issued with an occupation permit in 2007. Tang admitted on Monday that they had undertaken excavation work in the car park and said the underground space was used to store groceries.
The disclosures are having an impact on Tang's ambition to take the top post in the city. The Liberal Party, of which Tang was once a member, said it was reconsidering its support for his candidacy. It called on him to explain the matter fully.
Party chairwoman Miriam Lau Kin-yee said last night: 'If nothing had happened, chances are high that we will vote for Tang. But given what has happened, we will have a review of [our support], after taking into account his explanation. His explanation so far seems hardly convincing.'
She urged him to open up his property to the media for inspection. 'Our concern now is the extent of the illegal structures and what he will do to remedy it,' she said.
Another supporter on the committee, Thomas Woo Chu, vowed to rethink his backing despite having already handed in his nomination.
'We are so-called friends as both of us have the heart to serve Hong Kong,' said Woo, who led a 17-member team that won all the seats in the catering subsector in the Election Committee poll in December.
'We need to observe him further. Nomination and support in the vote are two separate matters.'
Lau and Woo spoke hours after a Chinese-language tabloid, Sharp Daily, published a floor plan that, it claimed, showed the illegal basement had a total floor size of 2,400 sq ft - larger than the 2,217 sq ft footprint of the house itself.
The plan, said to have been drawn up in 2003, shows a 430 sq ft wine cellar, wine-tasting room, home theatre, Japanese bath, gym, changing room, toilet and storeroom. The newspaper said Tang's wife, Lisa Kuo Yu-chin, was responsible for overseeing the construction work.
Tang said the house had taken about 10 years to build, and relatives had helped him oversee the construction. He called the description of the basement facilities inaccurate.
The Buildings Department said last night that it would be inspecting Tang and Kuo's properties today.
It said its officers inspected 7 York Road on January 24, 2007, and found no unauthorised structures. It issued an occupation permit nine days later.
Tang has said he and his wife once shared ownership of the 7 York Road house, but it is now solely owned by his wife through a private company.
His election rival, pan-democrat Albert Ho Chun-yan, said Tang had lost all credibility. He also urged him to open the house to the media. 'It is a lot more than a storeroom - it is a palace indeed,' he said.
But legislator Jeffrey Lam Kin-fung, another Tang supporter, said the row was no more serious than the one about Leung Chun-ying's alleged conflict of interest in an architectural design contest. 'Leung's involves public interest, while Tang's is only a personal one,' he said.