Franklin Lam Fan-keung

Franklin Lam faces quit calls as ICAC probes flat sales

Graft-buster contacts property agency involved in sale of two flats as investigation into Exco member's alleged 'insider' transactions begins

PUBLISHED : Saturday, 03 November, 2012, 12:00am
UPDATED : Saturday, 03 November, 2012, 8:42am

Embattled executive councillor Franklin Lam Fan-keung is believed to have come under investigation by the ICAC as he faces mounting calls to resign from the government's top body of policy advisers.

In the span of a week, the furore over Lam's alleged profiting from the sale of properties on insider news and offer of an "extra commission" to his property agent has escalated.

A lawyer said the crux of the matter was whether Lam had indeed proposed such a commission to the agent, which is a criminal offence under bribery laws.

League of Social Democrats vice-chairman Avery Ng Man-yuen, who lodged a formal complaint to the Independent Commission Against Corruption, gave his witness statement to the graft buster yesterday.

"Investigators said they had already opened a file," he said.

In his complaint, Ng said Lam could have used information obtained as an Executive Council member to gain profits, and that Lam's offer of an extra commission to an agent of Centaline Property Agency, Danny Leung, could be unlawful.

Sherman Lai Ming-kai, chairman of parent company Centaline Holdings, said the ICAC had approached the agency for help in the investigation.

Lam, a property analyst appointed as executive councillor in July, sold two properties at Casa Bella, Mid-Levels, less than six weeks before the government's introduction of buyers' stamp duty on October 26.

The timing of the flat sales gives the impression that he had tried to reap bigger profits before an expected drop in property prices, even as officials and fellow executive councillors dismissed the possibility that Lam had known of the new measures.

Lam has denied having insider knowledge of the property curbs.

He also said the "excess proceeds" from the sale of one of the flats - the difference between his asking price of HK$9.88 million and the transacted price of HK$9.95 million - was to go to the agent. He later said the money would be donated to a Centaline charity fund.

Barrister Stephen Char Shik-ngor, who worked for the ICAC for 28 years, said Lam might have breached section 9 of the Prevention of Bribery Ordinance.

The law states that anyone who offers an advantage to an agent as an inducement or reward faces jail of up to seven years and a HK$500,000 fine.

"Whether the agent had received the money or not is not the issue," he said. "The point is whether Lam made the offer."

An ICAC spokesman said it would not comment on individual cases.

Meanwhile, pan-democratic lawmakers Ronny Tong Ka-wah and James To Kun-sun called for Lam to resign from Exco.

"He should step down once ICAC has opened a file, for he could have committed a criminal offence. His credibility is in crisis," Tong, a barrister, said.

Exco member Bernard Chan urged Lam to further clarify the transaction process involving the flats, although he stressed he and other members were informed of the new property rules only a few hours before the announcement.

"He's seen to be hiding something," Chan said. "He needs to clarify further as the legitimacy of the transaction process is in doubt."