Tang's wife comes under scrutiny over basement
The Buildings Department has launched an investigation into chief executive hopeful Henry Tang Ying-yen's wife and others over an illegal 'underground palace' at her house in Kowloon Tong.
The investigation may lead to criminal charges, but it is uncertain whether Tang, who co-owned the house at 7 York Road with his wife Lisa Kuo Yu-chin until 2010, is involved in the probe.
The department said last night that it had started an investigation in response to media reports that suggested the 2,250 square foot basement at the house existed before an occupation permit was issued in 2007. Tang said the basement was built after the permit was issued, essentially dismissing reports he had concealed the basement project from inspectors.
All relevant parties - including the architect, structural engineers, contractors and Kuo - had been invited to provide information for the investigation, the department said.
Any unapproved building work could 'constitute an offence' under the Buildings Ordinance, it said.
It would also be an offence if someone 'knowingly misrepresents' a fact in any plan or certificate submitted to the department, it added.
In parallel with the investigation, the department has sent a letter giving Kuo seven days to submit a work schedule for demolishing the basement.
The announcement came a day after the Tangs admitted they knew the basement was illegal. Kuo claimed all responsibility for the project, saying her husband knew few details.
Eric Cheung Tat-ming, a law professor from the University of Hong Kong, said police should help in the investigation, since buildings officers had limited powers to look for witnesses and written records.
Cheung said that judging from the couple's admission on Thursday, 'there are reasonable grounds for suspicion that somebody has committed a criminal offence'.
Under part 1AA of section 40 of the Buildings Ordinance, the department could prosecute 'any person who knowingly contravenes' the requirement to obtain approval for beginning construction work. Offenders face a fine of up to HK$400,000 and two years in prison.
If work on the basement began before 2007, he said, there would be grounds to believe the couple and their architects had conspired to defraud the department, which said it was unaware of any underground work at the time.
The police said they would monitor the developments closely, but 'it was not convenient for police to intervene', while the Buildings Department was following up on the matter.
The square footage that the wine cellar is reported to cover in the basement
-Plans said to have drawn up nine years ago