Reputation of Hong Kong's anti-graft agency at stake over Tong scandal

Former long-serving senior graft-fighters decry the allegations against an ex-commissioner and internal strife, and fear for agency's future

PUBLISHED : Sunday, 05 May, 2013, 12:00am
UPDATED : Sunday, 05 May, 2013, 5:03am

Former senior ICAC investigators who helped stamp out endemic corruption in Hong Kong fear its hard-earned reputation as one of the cleanest anti-graft agencies in the world is on the line as a result of the Timothy Tong Hin-ming scandal.

One long-serving graft-fighter - who spent almost 30 years with the Independent Commission Against Corruption - is sickened by the allegations against former commissioner Tong.

Another now-retired veteran who joined the ICAC in the late 1970s said "the very existence of the agency as we have come to know it" was under threat as a result of both the allegations and strife within the organisation.

Last week it was announced that two probes would be held into allegations that Tong spent excessive amounts of public money on entertaining mainland officials and broke the internal rules of the ICAC. One will be led by the Legislative Council's public accounts committee and another by a four-member committee, which will report to Chief Executive Leung Chun-ying.

The scandal has unfolded against the backdrop of some of the most high-profile anti-corruption investigations in the ICAC's history, including one into Leung over allegedly illegal structures at his home.

The anti-graft body is also investigating former chief secretary Henry Tang Ying-yen, who stood against Leung in the chief executive election, also over allegations of impropriety over building work at his home, and Leung's predecessor, Donald Tsang Yam-kuen over his ties with tycoons.

At the same time the ICAC is pursuing billionaire brothers Raymond Kwok Ping-luen and Thomas Kwok Ping-kwong, who run property giant Sun Hung Kai Properties, and former government No2 Rafael Hui Si-yan over alleged bribery and misconduct in public office. All three face trial early next year.

One respected former senior investigator said: "Decades have been spent rooting out corruption and building a domestic and international reputation as an organisation beyond reproach. With these allegations, there is a very real risk that all that could be undone and the commission might find it hard to recover."

"The ICAC's ability to be an effective enforcement agency against corruption requires the public and the overseas agencies it works with to be certain that the men and women who work for it - not least those at the very top - are cleaner than clean. This episode is truly sickening and could have lasting damage," the former investigator said.

Another former graft fighter, who joined the ICAC in the 1970s, said: "Everyone knows there has been a degree of internal strife involving personalities within the organisation and changes at the top, including the relatively recent decision to start appointing civil servants to the post of commissioner. The Tong allegations coming out now will certainly exacerbate that.

"Unless this thing is handled properly, the very existence of an agency as we have come to know it is under threat,'' he said.

The most senior figure in the ICAC to face a top-level probe into his conduct was former deputy director of operations Alex Tsui Ka-kit, who was sensationally sacked 20 years ago after a Legislative Council probe.

"This is a disaster for Hong Kong. We don't need it. The ICAC is utterly destroyed at this stage. Allegations like this have appeared over the past 10 years, and to me they are years of infamy," Tsui said.

"It's a disgrace, not only for the people of Hong Kong but also the people who work in the ICAC. It's grossly unfair that they have to work in this environment. How can you have respect for your boss under such conditions? The matter is small but the consequences are great. This is a man who serves the Hong Kong people … they are paying his lunch bills at the end of the day."