The controversy surrounding Executive Councillor Barry Cheung Chun-yuen has deepened with a police investigation into the failed Hong Kong Mercantile Exchange he set up. On Tuesday, three men, none of whom worked for Cheung, were arrested by commercial-crime investigators for possessing false documents and using a false instrument. Little information is available at this stage. But that the arrests came after "serious" irregularities were unearthed in an initial probe is disturbing. The case involves a top cabinet member of Chief Executive Leung Chun-ying. The public will be closely watching whether it will be handled in a fair manner.
There is no evidence to suggest Cheung is involved in any unlawful dealings. But the fiasco, which follows a number of controversies involving the ruling team, has dealt Leung another blow. Former development minister Mak Chai-kwong is on trial in connection with an alleged housing allowance fraud decades ago. Another cabinet member, Franklin Lam Fan-keung, has been on leave for months pending the outcome of a probe into whether he benefited from inside information when he sold properties ahead of a new stamp duty coming in.
Cheung led Leung's election campaign last year and holds multiple public offices, including the chairmanships of the Urban Renewal Authority and top advisory bodies. Inevitably, Leung's authority will be further undermined.
Yesterday, Cheung maintained that his private business should not have any negative impact on the government. Arguably, one's success or failure in business does not necessarily affect the way one's public duties are discharged. There is no cause for saying the positions held by Cheung have been compromised. But perception sometimes overrides evidence. That individuals in financial trouble are vulnerable to undue influence is just common sense. The risk is higher if they are in the corridors of power. Cheung has rightly stood aside from all his public duties for the time being. He said he was prepared to go further and resign from all positions if needed.
No one is above the law in Hong Kong. The principle must be upheld even when dealing with the rich and powerful. The chief executive said Cheung's case would be handled impartially. The ongoing investigations by the Securities and Futures Commission and the police are a good sign the principle is being followed. The case should be handled in a fair and expeditious way lest greater damage is done.