The wife of failed chief executive contender Henry Tang Ying-yen has become the first public figure to be criminally liable for illegal structures after pleading guilty in court yesterday.
Lisa Kuo Yu-chin admitted one of two counts relating to the construction of an illegal basement in the couple's luxury villa at Kowloon Tong.
The prosecution planned to withdraw the second count if Kuo, 58, admitted the facts of the first summons, Kowloon City Court was told.
But it has not made the withdrawal because it is in dispute with the defence over the details of the case.
The basement at York Road, widely dubbed "an underground palace", was reported to be 2,400 sq ft with lavish facilities including a wine cellar, home theatre, gym and a Japanese bath.
It was allegedly built sometime between August 2005 and February last year. The media made its discovery during Tang's campaign for the city's top job last year, a revelation widely blamed for his election defeat.
Kuo, Tang's wife of 28 years, admitted yesterday she started the construction work without having the authority to do so.
She denied the second summons, which states that she did it "knowingly".
Director of Public Prosecutions Kevin Zervos SC told the South China Morning Post that there was neither a "political deal" nor "lenient treatment" in Kuo's case.
Zervos said having deputy director Wesley Wong Wai-chung SC to represent the prosecution was "proper", as Kuo was represented by a senior counsel.
Earlier, Tang had questioned outside court the deployment of such a high-ranking prosecutor to handle the case.
Law Society vice-president and veteran criminal lawyer Stephen Hung Wan-shun said the prosecution could "technically" press the same summons a second time after it had been withdrawn.
Hung believed it was unlikely in Kuo's case, since she had admitted one of the summonses.
He described a summons as "quasi-criminal" in nature, covering a wrongdoing less serious than an actual criminal offence.
Acting Chief Magistrate Clement Lee Hing-nin adjourned Kuo's case to July 30.
Three other defendants - architect Henry Ho Chung-yi, structural engineer Wong Pak-lam and contractor Hien Lee Engineering - pleaded not guilty to the summonses served on them. Their trial is scheduled for November 27.
"I believe the present development [of the matter] is due to the [chief executive] election," former chief secretary Tang said outside court.
"I feel very sorry for pressure inflicted on the other three defendants … and their families because of the court case."
He said it was normal for the defence to have a dialogue with the prosecution. He said the second summons was without basis.
Each of the counts carries a penalty of up to two years in jail and a HK$400,000 fine.