Henry Tang puts on brave face ahead of wife’s trial over illegal basement
Readiness to ‘admit wrong’ raises question of which way Lisa Kuo will plead in court
Lai Ying-kit and Joyce Ng
Failed chief executive candidate Henry Tang Ying-yen said on Wednesday he and his wife were prepared to take any responsibility for any illegal basement construction at their Kowloon Tong luxury home.
Tang, a former chief secretary, made the remark after he accompanied his wife Lisa Kuo Yu-chin to Kowloon City Court on Wednesday afternoon where she appeared to answer two charges of breaching building regulations.
Kuo faces one charge of commencing or carrying out building work without first obtaining the Building Authority’s approval and consent in writing, and a second, more serious charge, of "knowingly" doing so without the necessary approval. The charges relate to the construction of a basement at their house at 7 York Road in Kowloon Tong.
“We will admit to what we have done wrong. As for other [accusation], I cannot comment as the case has entered the judicial process," Tang told reporters when leaving court.
No plea was entered on Wednesday by Kuo. But Kuo's lawyer Gary Plowman SC did ask the court to give the defence more time as he said there were still “unresolved matters" and he was still in discussions with the Department of Justice on the case.
Principal Magistrate Clement Lee Hing-nin adjourned the case until July 11.
Tang also said on Wednesday that he believed that Hong Kong’s legal system would give his wife a fair trial. “I believe that every one is equal before the law. And the public can see clearly, and can form its own judgment.”
He refused to answer questions as to what plea Kuo might make to the charges or whether there was any plea bargaining going on.
Architect Henry Ho Chung-yi, structural engineer Wong Pak-lam, and contractor Hien Lee Engineering are also facing the charges of illegally carrying out construction work on the Kowloon Tong premises.
The basement, complete with a skylight, was revealed by local media in the final weeks of last year’s chief executive election campaign. Reports at the time described it as an "underground palace" that spanned 2,400 square feet and had a wine cellar, home theatre, gym and a Japanese bath.
Negative publicity over these revelations was compounded by how Tang, a former chief secretary, Hong Kong’s second highest ranking government official, handled the matter. While he co-owned the house with his wife until 2010, he said he was not responsible for any law being broken.
Tang was not charged over the basement’s construction, but the scandal was widely blamed for his falling popularity and eventual defeat in the chief executive elections in March of last year.
Tang’s election rival, current Chief Executive Leung Chun-ying, is under investigations by the Buildings Department over illegal structures found at his home on the Peak. The investigation is still continuing.
Illegal building works found in the homes of some cabinet ministers under former chief executive Donald Tsang Yam-kuen’s administration also became an embarrassment for his government, which launched a territory-wide crackdown on such works.
Unauthorised structures were found in the homes of the then education secretary Michael Suen Ming-yuen and undersecretary for the environment Dr Kitty Poon Kit.