Police urged to join in probe of Tang's basement

PUBLISHED : Friday, 16 March, 2012, 12:00am
UPDATED : Friday, 16 March, 2012, 12:00am


Police are being urged to join the investigation into an illegal basement at the home of chief executive candidate Henry Tang Ying-yen after the Buildings Department said it was having serious difficulty collecting evidence.

Director of Buildings Au Choi-kai said yesterday that almost a month after the government launched the probe, fewer than half the 40 witnesses had been contacted.

Tang and his wife Lisa Kuo Yu-chin, who has owned the house since it was transferred into her name in 2010, had yet to promise a meeting with the department, Au said.

The investigation began after media reports about the 2,400 sq ft basement below the house at 7 York Road, Kowloon Tong, that was said to include a storeroom, fitness room, changing room, cinema and wine-tasting room.

It was the latest in a series of revelations about illegal work at the homes of political and business leaders and celebrities at a time when the government is in the throes of a territory-wide campaign to get rid of such structures.

'We are not empowered by building regulations to summon [the owner and people involved in the construction] for an investigation,' Au said at a special meeting of members of the Legislative Council development panel. 'They also have the right to remain silent. We need strong evidence if we have to prove the owner did the work knowingly.'

The department needs to know if the basement was already built when an occupation permit was issued for the house in 2007. It also has to prove if the architect was informed of the plan to add a basement when he submitted the building plan.

Au said the department had already requested a site visit to check the timing of the construction but could not get hold of the owner.

A legal professor at the University of Hong Kong urged the police to join the investigation, as they were empowered to search computers and documents like quotations for the construction works. 'The police can launch an investigation whenever there are reasonable doubts that the owner has committed a criminal offence,' Cheung Tat-ming said.

A police spokesman said the force would not intervene but would monitor developments.

Legislator Dr Priscilla Leung Mei-fun asked whether the department should be given more powers to investigate. 'Is the department a paper tiger?' Leung asked. 'There's no way that the department can make a conclusion when half of the witnesses are not co-operative.'

Lawmakers Lee Wing-tat and Kam Nai-wai of the Democratic Party asked why the department did not question the deep foundations on the building plan, which should have disclosed the possibility that it could be turned into a basement.

Au said his staff did not question the plan, as the foundations were filled with soil and no useable area had been expected. He said the depth of the foundations did not necessarily point to a breach of the law because it depended on the geology.

Secretary for Development Carrie Lam Cheng Yuet-ngor said she agreed that building regulations should be altered over time to reflect changing circumstances.

She said the department had yet to gain permission to inspect the homes of celebrities also suspected to have unauthorised works.

Department figures show that about 200 complaints of illegal works below ground were received in the past three years, 11 of which led to demolition orders.