Former ICAC chief Timothy Tong criticised for breaching spending rules

Independent report on Timothy Tong's lavish entertainment reveals 42 instances of misconduct

PUBLISHED : Thursday, 12 September, 2013, 7:02pm
UPDATED : Friday, 13 September, 2013, 4:02am

A probe into overspending by ex-ICAC chief Timothy Tong Hin-ming found rule breaches on 42 occasions in his five-year reign.

The findings were revealed by an independent review committee set up to investigate Tong's use of public money while head of the graft-busting agency.

Two of the breaches are the subject of a criminal inquiry.

The report brought a call from Chief Executive Leung Chun-ying for the Independent Commission Against Corruption to seriously follow up on the report's recommendations.

Both Leung and the current commissioner, Simon Peh Yun-lu, distanced the ICAC from Tong, saying most officers "conducted themselves with discipline". Peh said: "I wish to point out that some of the non-compliances mentioned in the report were the personal decisions of [an] individual officer and in no way represent the values of ICAC officers."

The 81-page report detailed Tong's lavish spending on official entertainment, gifts and duty visits. But it also criticised the agency's community relations department for failing to comply with the rules.

Some sections of the report were obliterated "pending conclusion of relevant criminal investigation or prosecution". The allegations of Tong's extravagant spending on receptions and gifts to mainland officials were not shown in the report.

But the report pointed out that Tong was the first commissioner to introduce the practice of serving mao-tai, a Chinese hard liquor, at official events hosted by the ICAC. "The committee supports the current commissioner's decision to ban the serving of hard liquor," the report read.

The four-member committee headed by Executive Council member Chow Chung-kong studied 899 events and receptions hosted by the ICAC between 2007 and last year.

It also looked into HK$1.3 million of gifts and 413 duty visits that incurred a total expenditure of HK$12.6 million.

For the 206 meals hosted by Tong and charged under the heading of official entertainment, 77 - or 37 per cent - exceeded the spending ceiling.

Only 2 per cent of the 460 meals hosted by other ICAC officers overspent.

The rules state that expenditure per person should not exceed HK$300 for lunch or HK$400 for dinner, unless it can be properly justified.

In the report, Tong was also criticised for "excessive non-official activities" on two duty visits to the mainland in 2009 and 2010, to which the community relations department added sightseeing trips to Lijiang and Leshan .

For another four duty visits, Tong ordered the flight tickets before obtaining the chief executive's approval. Other non-compliances included two officers who went to a meeting in Brazil and upgraded their seats to business class without approval, costing HK$186,000.

The report found Tong handed out a considerable number of gifts and "some were expensive". That, it said, went against the ICAC's policy to "limit to the minimum the exchange of gifts on official occasions".

Tong did not respond to the committee's findings yesterday.

Leung refused to comment about any possible punishment of Tong. He said the government would wait until the ICAC concluded a graft complaint inquiry before deciding the next step.

Peh, who is heading the criminal investigation against Tong, said the probe was making "normal progress". He said new monitoring measures, such as a computerised system for entertainment claims and an extension of an internal audit to all ICAC staff, would be implemented.

Tong could be condemned again when the Legislative Council Public Accounts Committee announces its report next month.

Another select committee established to investigate the case may also invite him to give evidence later this year.

Civic Party lawmaker Dennis Kwok said while the report further revealed Tong's misconduct, it had failed to conduct an in-depth probe of the consequences for the ICAC.

Full report: Report of the Independent Review Committee on ICAC’s Regulatory Systems and Procedures for Handling Official Entertainment, Gifts and Duty Visits.