• Wed
  • Jul 23, 2014
  • Updated: 4:26pm
Lai See
PUBLISHED : Wednesday, 04 June, 2014, 5:08am
UPDATED : Wednesday, 04 June, 2014, 5:08am

Is Hong Kong's rule of law becoming a victim of political expediency?

BIO

Howard Winn has been with the South China Morning Post for two and half years after previous stints as business editor and deputy editor of The Standard, and business editor of Asia Times. His writing has also been published in the Far Eastern Economic Review, the Wall Street Journal, and the International Herald Tribune. He writes the Lai See column which focuses on the lighter side of business.
 

How time flies. Nearly six months ago Lai See raised the question of those "sensitive" legal cases which are still pending. One case involved Henderson Land, controlled by billionaire Lee Shau-kee, and the probe into its controversial luxury development at 39 Conduit Road. The firm was investigated by the police following complaints of unfair and non-transparent transactions. In March the police announced, some four years after it started its probe, that it was dropping the case. In a statement, the police said, "After consulting the Secretary for Justice and conducting investigations, the police deemed that there wasn't enough evidence to make a criminal prosecution." But the undue amount of time it took to arrive at that decision raised concern within the community.

The other case Lai See mentioned six months ago involved Citic Pacific, which is accused of defrauding at least three banks in obtaining HK$1.75 billion in loans. The case was initially investigated by the Securities and Futures Commission. It completed its inquiry in 2010 and handed the case to the Department of Justice, where it has remained ever since. There have since been a number of court hearings relating to documents seized by police. But in six months there appears to have been little if any progress, at least none that we are being told about.

In July last year Lai See was hauled over the coals by the then-director of public prosecutions Kevin Zervos for suggesting politically sensitive cases were sitting in his in-tray. This we were assured in no uncertain terms was not the case. Yet almost a year later and with a new director of public prosecutions the community is none the wiser as to what is happening with this case. The adage that "justice must not only be done, but must be seen to be done" does not just mean being able to turn up at the High Court and watch a trial. The police and the Department of Justice are the gatekeepers of the process, they are the bodies that control the cases that are brought to court. You can have excellent judges that produce good judgments, but that's only once these cases have been brought to court. If sensitive cases aren't acted on expeditiously, then the community has every right to ask what is going on.

And while we're on politically sensitive issues, let's not forget the matter of former chief executive Donald Tsang Yam-kuen. He was referred to the Independent Commission Against Corruption (ICAC) in February 2012 after undue schmoozing with tycoons. Writing in this newspaper a few months ago a former director of public prosecutions, Grenville Cross, said: "It should, within months, have been possible for the ICAC to interview witnesses, examine records and decide if the case was pursuable." This view is supported by former ICAC officers who are aghast at the way the organisation has handled the case. In any case Tsang himself admitted several of the trips at issue.

In the meantime we had the unsavoury case of former ICAC chief Timothy Tong Hin-ming, who according to a Legislative Council report was guilty of "deplorable overspending" on entertainment, some of it in the company of the central government's liaison office officials. This raised questions about the "independence" of the ICAC. As with these other "sensitive" cases, this has taken an unnecessarily long time. In his piece Cross says the ICAC needs to deal swiftly with the Tsang case to restore confidence in the organisation which has been tarnished by Tong's behaviour: "Nobody will understand this better than the current director of operations, Ryan Wong Sai-chiu, a principled veteran, but the fact that even he has not been able to move things along is a real concern and may suggest that other forces are at play."

Since we all apparently believe that justice should be seen to be done, and because these cases are taking an exceptionally long time to process, the community should be told what's happening. A favourite mantra that slips so easily off the tongues of government officials is that one of the features that makes Hong Kong a special place for doing business is its adherence to the rule of law. This is an important issue for Hong Kong as the rule of law is touted as one of its competitive advantages over the mainland. It would be a shame if Hong Kong's rule of law was allowed to become a victim of political expediency.

 

Have you got any stories that Lai See should know about? E-mail them to howard.winn@scmp.com
 

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9

This article is now closed to comments

caractacus
The rule of law has been diluted to an empty slogan by the misconduct of officials and tycoons because the political appointments system is secretive and unaccountable.
This is the proof of the pudding: a rotten political system produces rotten governance, rampant corruption and vice versa. A vicious circle.
22gt7
Lai See should be praised for pointing out this procedural injustice. Should the SAR Government put in place a system of control which requires the Secretary for Justice and the Department of Justice to give a quarterly report (with reasons for the delay for finalisation and what progress had been made) on cases which are more than 2 years old? The report should be accessible by the public online. Can Legco members follow up on this matter?
johnyuan
Hong Kong’s practice of rule of law is highly selective that anyone defending it is being dishonest. Even commercial laws which seem to be strong and keenly applied, those rules not all are unfortunately fair but favoring the business tycoons.
.
Rule of law is a slogan for Hong Kong that makes collusion between officials and tycoons fearlessly practiced by tailored ‘rule of law’ or total absent of law.
.
I advocate Hong Kong practices rule of law across the board for the entire society. Untill then, please refrain from boosting so. It is shamelessly lying otherwise.
mdap
I recently overheard The Duck being asked how he would like to be addressed, his reply "Sir Donald" - the reaction of those who overheard soon had this disgusting little man scurrying off to the loos!
Dao-Phooy
Your observations are spot on. Political interference can be the only inference. Interesting how many prosecutors have been appointed to the Judiciary and with the high rate of conviction in HK it would seem those under investigation have a high chance of being convicted. Hence, the delay in any decision to prosecute?
XYZ
Valid observations from Mr. Winn, but way too late, I'm afraid.
.
Senior judges remain upright servants of the law, I believe, but the government apparatchiks who shepherd cases through the system obviously have become hopelessly politicized, neutered, or both.
.
We can thank CH Tung and Elsie Leung for setting the tone right from the start with their unconscionable decision not to prosecute Sally Aw while her co-conspirators were tried, convicted and sent to prison.
rpasea
I wonder if this is why Zervos left the DPP position.
chaz_hen
Hong Kong: CHINA'S WORLD CITY!!!!
dynamco
perhaps Bowtie wants to call the Pope as a witness ?
blatant case of misconduct in public office
Grenville Cross, the same one who was told not to prosecute Sally Aw ?
 
 
 
 
 

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