No harm done, says scandal-hit ex-chief of ICAC Timothy Tong

Timothy Tong insists worldwide reputation of anti-corruption agency will not be hurt by investigations into budget-busting dinners

PUBLISHED : Saturday, 25 May, 2013, 12:00am
UPDATED : Saturday, 25 May, 2013, 3:57am

Former chief graft-buster Timothy Tong Hin-ming says he does not believe an investigation into his hospitality expenses will affect the anti-corruption agency's reputation.

Speaking to journalists after attending a Legislative Council Public Accounts Committee hearing yesterday, he said the Independent Commission Against Corruption was reputable and influential.

"I believe this investigation will not affect the international reputation of the ICAC," he said, without taking any questions from the media.

His remarks were rejected by former ICAC investigator Lam Cheuk-ting, who said: "It is ridiculous. What he has done has seriously damaged the ICAC's reputation."

At the beginning of the hearing, the committee received a letter from Director of Public Prosecutions Kevin Zervos reminding members to "protect the integrity of the [criminal] investigation" because questions pertaining to it might be asked.

Some lawmakers expressed concerns over Zervos' letter at the hearing and a later House Committee meeting, saying the government should not remind the legislature what to do.

House Committee chairman Andrew Leung Kwan-yuen said it would express its concerns to Chief Secretary Carrie Lam Cheng Yuet-ngor next week.

A spokeswoman for the Department of Justice said the letter was not meant to interfere with the role of the legislature, but to ensure both parties performed their constitutional functions.

Tong was accompanied by three lawyers yesterday, one more than on his first appearance before the committee. He appeared more relaxed this time and consulted his legal team only once.

The hearing, concerning an Audit Commission report released last month, focused on two lavish dinners Tong approved and hosted in 2011. At one of the dinners, the cost of wine and desserts was calculated separately so the dinner did not exceed the permitted limit.

Tong said he was seldom informed about the bills, which were cleared by other colleagues.

"At that time, I thought such arrangements were within the guidelines … until the publication of the audit report. I then recognised it could fall into a grey area," he said.

He also admitted hiring a mainland professor at a salary of HK$70,000 to HK$80,000 a month to be a consultant at the Centre of Anti-Corruption Studies, which he set up in 2009.

He said that although the mainland was more corrupt than Hong Kong, it did not mean there were no good anti-corruption experts across the border.

Meanwhile, the House Committee also endorsed the pan-democrats' plan to set up a 13-member select committee to look into the Tong case.

Following convention, lawmakers appointed a subcommittee to prepare for the investigation.

Unlike the Public Accounts Committee, the inquiry panel, due to start work in early July, will not have the power to summon witnesses, although it could have a broader scope of investigation.

Apart from the two committees, next week Legco's security panel will also discuss the affair that will also be looked at by an independent review committee appointed by the Chief Executive. The ICAC has launched a criminal investigation as well.