Tong's hospitality as chief of customs raises eyebrows

More allegations emerge of ex-ICAC head's extravagant treatment of mainland officials

PUBLISHED : Wednesday, 08 May, 2013, 12:00am
UPDATED : Wednesday, 08 May, 2013, 5:48am

A second public agency has become mired in a row over former graft-buster chief Timothy Tong Hin-ming's excessive hospitality to mainland officials.

This time it is the Customs and Excise Department, which he used to run.

A lawmaker urged the tight-lipped department to explain why Tong could borrow a plane from the Government Flying Service to entertain visiting mainland officials in 2004, as alleged by a Chinese-language newspaper yesterday.

Tong was commissioner for customs and excise from 2003 to 2007 before becoming commissioner for the Independent Commission Against Corruption, a post he held until last year.

The latest allegation involved Shenzhen customs director general Zou Zhiwu's visit on April 14, 2004.

"Commissioner Tong accompanied director general Zou to board a fixed-wing airplane for an aerial reconnaissance of the smuggling black spots at the boundary and sea," the June 2004 issue of the department's internal publication, Customs News, reported.

It said Zou also boarded a customs launch to study navigation and surveillance equipment.

Democratic Party lawmaker James To Kun-sun acknowledged the flying service had a responsibility to deploy planes to help other law enforcement agencies deliver their duties and that customs had legitimate reasons to borrow one.

But it was difficult to tell if the plane had really taken the guests to inspect smuggling black spots, To said.

Now people are suspecting [the trip had involved sightseeing]. So customs should really come clean

"Now people are suspecting [the trip had involved sightseeing]. So customs should really come clean, or else it would give an impression that the current commissioner is trying to shield the former commissioner."

To said he had written to Chief Executive Leung Chun-ying to call for an independent investigative commission. Leung said he believed the Legislative Council, ICAC and review committee that he had set up would look into allegations about Tong.

The former customs chief also reportedly spent big on giving gifts, hosting receptions and using department boats and cars to receive mainland officials.

Last night, the department said government officials adhered strictly to expenditure guidelines and it had nothing to add. The flying service did not reply to enquiries.

Similar claims of overspending have been made of Tong's five-year tenure at the ICAC. Another newspaper report yesterday said Tong allegedly received 450 gifts as chief graft-buster.

An ICAC spokesman said employees would display gifts they had received in the office and contribute them to lucky draws during staff functions. Gifts of food would be shared among staff while alcohol could be served at official functions.