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The graft-buster sank deeper into controversy over its independence yesterday after its former deputy commissioner criticised Chief Executive Leung Chun-ying for "unnecessarily and inappropriately politicising" it.
The remarks by Daniel Li Ming-chak came after Leung said those who filed complaints to the ICAC against two former executive councillors should apologise after the inquiries were dropped. In an opinion piece published yesterday, Li also hit out at defenders of Leung's remarks and said a statement issued by the ICAC Retired Officers' Association on Wednesday had thrown the anti-corruption agency into a credibility crisis.
He said the ICAC would be seen as siding with the authorities if it remained silent on the recent controversy over its independence and impartiality.
The row blew up this month when Leung said former executive councillors Franklin Lam Fan-keung and Barry Cheung Chun-yuen deserved apologies from the people who reported them to the ICAC over possible conflicts of interest.
Yesterday, executive councillor Cheung Chi-kong said he was "shocked" by Li's comment. "It is totally unacceptable if one equates someone from the government making a response with exerting pressure [on the ICAC]," said the Exco member who earlier criticised the chairman of the ICAC's Operations Review Committee, Michael Sze Cho-cheung, for "encouraging the public to file complaints indiscriminately".
The Chief Executive's Office would not comment on any individual remark, saying Leung had already stated his view that no law enforcement agency should be used as a political tool.
The ICAC yesterday said it was aware of the views expressed by former officers recently and that it would make no comment as a law enforcement agency. It reiterated that there had never been any interference with its investigative work and the presence of the independent Operations Review Committee was effective in ensuring its impartiality.
The retired officers' association issued a statement on Wednesday calling on the public to support the ICAC's work, saying it felt it had to speak out to dispel fears over its impartiality.
Association chairman Ricky Hui Kar-man said yesterday that the independent watchdog committee - consisting of members from across the political spectrum - was a reliable safeguard against interference, even from the chief executive. A member of the committee, Tik Chi-yuen, said all investigations had to be reported to it regularly and the agency could not close any case unless the committee was satisfied with the explanation.