Hong Kong’s ICAC sacking ‘nothing to do with Leung Chun-ying’s millions’

Graft-buster’s advisors tell people to stop speculating about outside interference, or provide evidence of it

PUBLISHED : Wednesday, 11 January, 2017, 9:40pm
UPDATED : Wednesday, 11 January, 2017, 10:08pm

Advisers to Hong Kong’s graft-buster said they had found no evidence that the agency’s management reshuffle last year was related to outside pressure, or to a probe into the city’s chief executive taking HK$50 million from Australian firm UGL, urging people to stop speculating.

The comments came during an annual press conference by the four advisory committee chairs of the Independent Commission Against Corruption (ICAC) on Wednesday.

Chow Chung-kong, committee chairman on corruption, said he believed the removal of powerful operations head Rebecca Li Bo-lan from her post in July was purely “a matter concerning personal arrangement”.

He also stressed allegations that the incident might be related to cases being handled by the ICAC or that its chief, Simon Peh Yun-lu, came under outside pressure were “groundless speculations” without any substantiated evidence. He said his committee respected and supported Peh’s decision.

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“You cannot prove the negative. If I was accused of hitting my wife, it is difficult for me to prove I did not do so. You ought to find evidence to prove that I did assault her,” Chow said, adding that his group had spoken to different staff members and received two reports from Peh.

“It has been six months [since Li’s removal]. Bring up evidence if you claim something did happen. Otherwise please stop talking about it.”

Peh earlier took sole responsibility for removing the top investigator Li, saying she “failed to meet the job requirements”. He also denied the city’s leader, Leung Chun-ying – who was under ICAC investigation over whether he had disclosed to the Executive Council the HK$50 million payment to him from Australian firm UGL in 2012-2013 – had anything to do with the controversial move.

The saga prompted several of Li’s juniors to resign. The same month, Li’s successor Ricky Yau Shu-chun withdrew his resignation within hours of his departure being announced. It all put the credibility of the agency, and Peh’s leadership, into question.

According to a survey by the University of Hong Kong’s public opinion programme in late November, public satisfaction with the ICAC has plunged to a record low since 2013, and is the worst among all disciplined services

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Chow said staff morale was high, and the ICAC recorded a 2.3 per cent staff turnover rate last year, which was relatively low, as that rate had ranged from 2 per cent to 5 per cent in recent years.

Speaking on the progress of the chief executive’s case, the chairwoman of the operations review committee, Maria Tam Wai-chu, refused to comment on individual cases.

But she added the operations department regularly updated her group on cases, and that no investigation could be terminated without the committee’s endorsement.

“The progress of each investigation, especially those widely publicised or of a sensitive nature, is closely monitored by the committee,” Tam said.

Overall, the ICAC received 2,891 non-election-related corruption complaints last year, which is three per cent more than the 2015 figure. Of them, 847 were against the government, a 10 per cent jump year on year.

Complaints against public bodies rose 6 per cent to 211, while there were 1,833 against the public sector.