• Thu
  • Jul 31, 2014
  • Updated: 7:39am
NewsHong Kong
COURTS

Trio cleared in Henry Tang illegal basement case

Architect, engineer and contractor acquitted of building without planning approval over construction at home of former chief secretary

PUBLISHED : Wednesday, 09 April, 2014, 2:24pm
UPDATED : Thursday, 10 April, 2014, 10:12am

Two building professionals and a contractor have been acquitted of all charges relating to the construction of the lavish unauthorised basement at Henry Tang Ying-yen's home that derailed his bid for chief executive.

Architect Henry Ho Chung-yi, structural engineer Wong Pak-lam and Hien Lee Engineering Company were acquitted on one count each of building without planning approval from 2005 to 2007 and one of knowingly misrepresenting information to the Building Authority.

Soon after the ruling by Chief Magistrate Clement Lee Hing-nin, Tang apologised to the trio.

"I am deeply sorry for the disturbances that they and their families endured," the former chief secretary said.

Delivering his 82-page verdict in Kowloon City Court yesterday, Lee said there would have been obvious signs such as irregular steel and deep trenches around the site if the basement had been built before the occupation permit was issued in 2007.

"Such signs, if they existed, should not have escaped the attention of Buildings Department officers … who conducted regular but unannounced visits at the site," the magistrate said.

He added that there was simply no objective evidence to prove that such signs existed before the permit was issued.

The 24,000 sq ft basement at No 7 York Road, Kowloon Tong, included a wine cellar and a gymnasium.

Tang's wife, Lisa Kuo Yu-chin, the house's owner, was fined HK$110,000 last year for starting construction of the basement without permission.

Yesterday Lee said he did not accept evidence of the prosecution's two expert witnesses, University of Science and Technology engineering professor Li Zongjin and structural engineer Jacky Chiong Kam-yeung.

Li, who had visited the basement six times, told the court he believed it was constructed before the occupation permit was issued because it would have been "impractical" to demolish the house's ground floor and then build the basement.

However, the magistrate noted that Li did not use words meaning it would have been "impossible".

Chiong told the court that the swimming pool above the basement could have leaked if the underground structure had been built afterwards. Lee said the engineer's arguments lacked factual or scientific evidence.

But he accepted the testimony of defence witness James Lau.

Lau, a structural engineer, found from his inspections at the site after the media exposé of the basement that 16 of 34 beams on the lower ground floor were of sizes significantly different from those shown on the 2006 plans.

But Buildings Department officers did not find these differences when they carried out inspections before issuing the occupation permit in 2007.

Lau said this supported his argument that the basement was built after the permit was issued.

Tang said construction work to remove the unauthorised structure was under way.

Asked if it would appeal, the Justice Department said it was studying the verdict.

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13

This article is now closed to comments

OC2S
I guess the practical problem here is that if there was a successful prosecution here it would set a nasty precedent for the thousands of illegal structures that exist in Hk ...
rpasea
This case was about submitting fraudulent plans to govt, not about illegal structures. A MUCH more serious offense.
rpasea
Hong Kong's new moniker: "Asia's Banana Republic"
mercedes2233
So the public is putting the accused on trial a second time outside the courtroom. The law on 'Double jeopardy' means you cannot try a person for the same crime twice.
peye3515
24000 sq/ft really. Some people seen to need a lot of room to chase each other around the house.
kingsleyhk
Aren't semantics wonderful? Impractical/impossible - absolutely clear cut that they were innocent.
XYZ
"I'm shocked, shocked, to find out that gambling is going on in here!"
.
"Your winnings, Inspector."
.
"Oh, thank you very much."
.
ileung8
Aren't there evidence on the timing of the underground work apart from the defendents' presentation? ?
DinGao
The person responsible was never charged.
chuchu59
So Henry is let off the hook. I am somewhat surprised at the flimsy evidence provided by the Buildings Department. If the officials did not notice any differences during their inspections before issuing their permits surely they must have known they do not have a strong case. This smacks of political persecution and now to save its own skin, Buildings presented a weak case for fear that it will be accused of negligence.

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