Franklin Lam in clear on ICAC flat sales probe, but he quits Exco
Councillor resigns despite insufficient evidence over allegation of misconduct surrounding the sale of two flats ahead of new stamp duties
Executive councillor Franklin Lam Fan-keung quit yesterday, even though the Department of Justice decided not to prosecute him over allegations of misconduct in public office and offering illicit advantages.
Lam stepped down after nine months' leave of absence prompted by criticism he made use of insider information to sell two flats ahead of new housing stamp duties. Chief Executive Leung Chun-ying accepted his resignation with regret.
He becomes the second Exco member to step down since Leung took office 13 months ago. Barry Cheung Chun-yuen quit in May after being investigated by police over his failed Hong Kong Mercantile Exchange.
Pan-democrats issued a complaint against Lam, a property analyst, to the Independent Commission against Corruption over the sale of two Mid-Levels flats a few weeks before the government imposed new stamp duties to cool the market in late October. The ICAC has completed its investigation and sought legal advice from the Department of Justice. Yesterday, Director of Public Prosecutions Kevin Zervos said Lam and his wife would not be prosecuted.
Zervos said he agreed with independent legal advice from senior counsel Peter Duncan that there was insufficient evidence to secure a prosecution for misconduct or offering extra commission to a property agent.
He also rejected suggestions it was a political decision.
"I am here because I want to assure you this case has been properly considered as any other case, being carefully evaluated with the evidence," he said.
Zervos noted the couple put the properties up for sale months before the government decision to cool down the market.
Also, Lam was absent from Hong Kong during the time the measures were discussed at an October 25 Exco meeting.
The justice department said no extra commission was paid, despite an earlier offer to the property agent.
The offer did not constitute an offence since it was made known to the property agency, the department said.
Lam said it was comforting the graft-busters had cleared his name. But he was unhappy that false accusations were made against him and that some people and the media had tried to put him on "public trial".
Executive councillors Fanny Law Fan Chiu-fun and Cheng Yiu-tong said it was regrettable holders of public office chose to resign because they were disheartened by such criticism.
Such moves were not conducive to the city's long-term development, as talented people could be put off joining the administration, they said.
Lam Cheuk-ting, a former ICAC investigator now with the Democratic Party, said Lam's resignation would exert pressure on development minister Paul Chan Mo-po, who is embroiled in a conflict-of-interest row over land zoned for a new town.
Civic Party leader Alan Leong Kah-kit said Lam's resignation at this time was "a selfish act". He added: "Lam could have saved some credibility for Exco … had he resigned earlier."