Catching bigwigs a boost for graft-buster
Amid mounting public concern over the ICAC's flagging performance, yesterday's arrest of three high-profile corruption suspects has renewed faith in the graft-buster's abilities.
The Independent Commission Against Corruption, suspected of having lost its edge amid staff shortages and failures in its investigations, yesterday announced the arrests of tycoon brothers Thomas Kwok Ping-kwong and Raymond Kwok Ping-luen, and former chief secretary Rafael Hui Si-yan - its most high-profile catch so far.
However, a blot on its recent triumph was the absence of Daniel Li Ming-chak, deputy commissioner and head of the ICAC's operations unit, who was off-duty yesterday.
Chief Executive Donald Tsang Yam-kuen, who extended Li's tenure at the commission amid dwindling staff numbers, was on leave starting yesterday until next Tuesday, a government announcement said.
This follows the arrest last week of Sun Hung Kai Properties executive director Thomas Chan Kui-yuen, who was a subject in an ICAC investigation into suspected bribery.
The ICAC, set up in 1974 to combat worsening corruption in the public sector, has seen many unsuccessful campaigns in recent years, including the case against TVB executive Stephen Chan Chi-wan, who was accused of fraud and corruption in 2010 but acquitted of all charges last year.
The Chan case seemed to continue a trend of failed investigations into the entertainment industry that began in 2003, when it arrested 22 people in a scam involving taking bribes in exchange for music awards. Those arrested included showbiz mogul Albert Yeung Sau-shing, several pop singers and TVB officials.
A key problem is the exodus of top investigators. More than 10 ICAC officers, some in senior posts, have left the body since late 2009, recent press reports say. Eight of the 20 principal investigators and senior principal investigators who are also team leaders serve in an 'acting' capacity. There are also four 'acting' directors and assistant directors of the six in the ICAC's operations department.
Li had to postpone retirement two times to meet the ICAC's 'operational needs'. He reached retirement age in December, but was asked to stay on until next month by Tsang. On Wednesday, the government once again pushed his retirement back to the end of July.
But the ICAC has a distinguished past. One of its first important successes was bringing fugitive chief police superintendent Peter Godber to justice in the mid-1970s. He was sentenced to four years' jail for graft.
In the 1980s, it brought down the Carrian conglomerate, headed by Singaporean businessman George Tan, which had scammed investors of around HK$7.8 billion.
In 2000, lawmaker Gary Cheng Kai-nam was arrested and found guilty of abusing his post for commercial gain.
convictions have been spurred by the ICAC between January and December last year, a 36 per cent drop from the same period in 2010