Timothy Tong's liquor spending spree gives ICAC a hangover

Alcohol purchases banned as more spending and unusual recruitment practices come to light

PUBLISHED : Wednesday, 05 June, 2013, 12:00am
UPDATED : Wednesday, 05 June, 2013, 3:34am

Graft-busting agency ICAC, stung by revelations that it had paid for huge amounts of liquor under its free-spending former chief, Timothy Tong Hin-ming, has suspended alcohol purchases and may sell its remaining supplies.

Commissioner of the Independent Commission Against Corruption Simon Peh Yun-lu said that when alcohol was required for a reception, it would be taken from existing stocks and all the hard liquor would be put up for sale through a government auction after the investigation into Tong's entertainment spending was over.

It was earlier disclosed that Tong had bought 1,000 bottles of alcoholic beverages when he was at the helm of the agency. But the Legislative Council's Public Accounts Committee heard yesterday that there were just 41 bottles of table wine and two bottles of hard liquor left.

Peh told the committee that he had discussed the issue with colleagues and had come up with the idea of banning purchases of alcohol for the moment.

"If there is a need to use house wine for a reception, we will use the stored bottles. My approval will be required, including the amount to be used," he said.

Peh revealed late last month that Tong had spent HK$724,000 on gifts - more than triple than the HK$220,000 he first reported to lawmakers.

Yesterday he said the first number had been hastily taken from the ICAC's records.

"Then some media reports said the figure was not the full picture. We then went through all the receipts thoroughly … and came up with the [later] figure," he said.

It was also revealed by the media earlier that cookies costing HK$50,000 has not been included in the sum when the first figure was submitted.

ICAC Director of Community Relations Julie Mu Fee-man said that she and assistant director of administration Jennie Au Yeung Wong Mei-fong had considered gifts as something for "memorial purposes", and decided not to include food on the list.

Au Yeung said there was no professional accountant or auditor at the ICAC.

Peh also said he found Tong's recruitment style unorthodox. Officers were hired as general staff and rotated among three different departments at the ICAC.

Peh said he had restored the old recruiting system, in which officers were directly hired into specific departments.

"Two departments found it problematic. People just came and went. No one could spend a long time in a position," he said.

Committee chairman Abraham Razack said Peh had been answering questions frankly, but would invite him to return.

Meanwhile, a 13-member Legco select committee set up to look into Tong's case met for the first time yesterday and confirmed its terms of reference.