Basement woes hit new Lingnan boss
Shirley Zhao and Olga Wong
Lingnan University council chairman Bernard Chan has backed the institution's controversial new president in a row over an illegal basement in his former Sai Kung home.
Leonard Cheng Kwok-hon said he bought house 16 at Lotus Villas in 1999. It already had a basement and it was sealed.
He opened it up and knocked down several walls, adding about 900 square feet to the 2,400-square-feet house.
"I did not think it was illegal at that time," he said. "I apologise for this."
Chan said Cheng owned the house when illegal structures were common and before they had become such a burning issue.
"Everyone had an illegal structure at that time, including myself and my father," Chan said. "We've demolished the structures, which is the most important thing. Cheng has apologised and no longer owns the house. The issue is over."
Cheng's present house did not have illegal structures.
Cheng is already in the spotlight over his Lingnan appointment as he was one of Chief Executive Leung Chung-ying's 11 election campaign advisers.
Land records show Cheng bought the Sai Kung house for HK$5.8 million and sold it to Luck Properties for HK$11.18 million in 2007. It was resold to He Zhongquan in 2009. Demolition orders were issued to owners of the house in 2008 and 2009.
Buildings Department records show it had unauthorised alterations and an excavation, illegal structures in the gardens, on the roof and an illegal external wall.
Fung Wai-wah, president of Professional Teachers' Union, said although the incident might not say much about Cheng's ability to lead a university, it would damage his public image. "Society expects the president of a university to abide laws and be clean," he said.