Ex-justice secretary Wong Yan-lung named in Berlusconi case

Pressure mounts on Hong Kong government over claim Wong Yan-lung was told of request to stall transfer of vital evidence on Berlusconi

PUBLISHED : Saturday, 28 September, 2013, 12:00am
UPDATED : Saturday, 28 September, 2013, 7:10am

Former justice secretary Wong Yan-lung is the latest senior Hong Kong figure implicated in claims of judicial interference in a case involving ex-Italian premier Silvio Berlusconi.

His alleged role in the affair was revealed as pressure mounted on the government to address claims of attempts to pervert the course of justice.

Former Italian lawmaker Sergio De Gregorio said Wong was told of a request to stall the transfer of evidence from Hong Kong to Italy in a money laundering probe in 2008.

In statements given to Italian prosecutors obtained by the South China Morning Post, De Gregorio said Wong was told of the request by Duncan Pescod, Hong Kong's representative to Europe at the time.

De Gregorio earlier claimed former chief executive Donald Tsang Yam-kuen was promised a private audience with the pope if his administration could stop the transfer to Italy of vital evidence.

At the centre of the Italian's claims is a lunch with Pescod in April 2008. De Gregorio, who has admitted receiving bribes from Berlusconi, told prosecutors: "Pescod said he would talk with their minister of justice.

"Some time later he told me he did that and spontaneously wrote me that letter in which he points out, 'I have been in touch with Hong Kong and have been able to brief them.'"

The claims prompted renewed calls from lawmakers for Hong Kong officials to give a full explanation to resolve doubts cast on the city's judicial independence. Last night, Wong's secretary said: "Mr Wong has not spoken with Mr Pescod as indicated in [De Gregorio's] claim".

Pescod's spokeswoman sent an e-mail reply to questions from the Post, saying Pescod also denied talking to Wong about the matter. It said Pescod's letter to De Gregorio, dated May 6, 2008, was a "common courtesy" to thank him for hosting the meal.

It also said it was De Gregorio who raised the prospect of helping to secure a meeting for Tsang with the pope and that he linked this to a legal case in Hong Kong.

But Pescod told De Gregorio the Hong Kong government "would not intervene in any ongoing criminal investigation" given the separation of executive and judicial functions.

A transcript of De Gregorio's statement naming Wong, who was justice secretary from 2005 to last year, was submitted to a court in Milan on Tuesday.

Democratic Party lawmaker James To Kun-sun said De Gregorio's testimony had potentially "serious consequences". He said: "The Italian could have lied, but if he hasn't, either Pescod lied or he really did approach the justice secretary regarding the case.

"This is serious as Pescod, a serving senior official, could have perverted the course of justice."

Pro-government lawmaker Paul Tse Wai-chun said he may invoke the Powers and Privileges Ordinance to force Pescod and Tsang to explain what went on.

"The Italian's claim should be looked into in the same vein as previous allegations over Tsang's acceptance of tycoons' favours," said Tse, referring to a probe into Tsang by the Independent Commission Against Corruption.