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Leung Chun-ying

Will Leung Chun-ying be next in line for prosecution in Hong Kong?

The anti-graft watchdog has been investigating the chief executive’s receipt of HK$50 million from an Australian firm for the past two and a half years

PUBLISHED : Tuesday, 21 February, 2017, 11:28pm
UPDATED : Wednesday, 22 February, 2017, 12:05am

The conviction of disgraced former chief executive Donald Tsang Yam-kuen has sparked questions about when and whether his successor might be next to face prosecution.

Investigations have been ongoing over incumbent Leung Chun-ying’s decision not to declare his HK$50 million deal with Australian engineering firm UGL, part of which he received when he was chief executive.

Former Hong Kong leader Donald Tsang faces strict regime if he is sent to Stanley Prison

Former top prosecutor Grenville Cross compared Tsang’s case to the slow progress of the Leung investigation led by the Independent Commission Against Corruption (ICAC).

“The most striking similarity between the two cases is the astonishing length of time taken on each,” he said. “The UGL case has now been with the ICAC for two years five months without any conclusion, and may yet catch up with the three years eight months taken in the Tsang case.”

The graft-buster launched its investigation into Leung in 2014 after it was revealed that the chief executive did not declare to the Executive Council that he received HK$50 million from UGL in 2012 and 2013.

Leung denied any conflict of interest as he did not provide UGL any service and the money was to stop him from joining a rival firm within two years.

The case has inevitably attracted comparisons with Tsang’s case, where he was found guilty of misconduct in public office for deliberately concealing his negotiations over the rental of a three-storey penthouse belonging to a company chaired by businessman Bill Wong Cho-bau.

But Tsang’s case involved an apparent potential conflict of interest – he had approved a digital audio broadcasting licence for radio station Wave Media, of which Wong was a shareholder.

Eric Cheung Tat-ming, the principal lecturer at the University of Hong Kong law school, noted that some media reports had alleged there was also a conflict of interest element in Leung’s case.

The accusation was that when Leung was in the Executive Council in 2013, he took part in decision-making on matters that involved parties linked to DTZ Japan.

The ICAC should look at the case and find out whether there were such conflicts, he said.

Cheung said the UGL case should be probed regardless of whether Tsang was convicted. “The point is whether Leung had deliberately failed to declare an interest he had accepted, and whether there was a potential conflict of interest,” he said.

“Whether he did something in return for accepting that interest is irrelevant for a misconduct offence, unlike bribery.”

Simon Young Ngai-man, criminal law professor at the same university, said there could not be any misconduct if the facts showed Leung did not exercise any public duty or power in relation to UGL during his tenure that created a potential conflict between his personal interests and that of his office.

Norton Rose Fulbright partner Wilson Ang, who specialises in business ethics and anti-corruption law, did not think Tsang’s conviction would encourage the ICAC to go after more officials or affect Leung’s case. “But I think it might give them some confidence that the approach they have been taking is the right one and that leads to success and conviction.”

Democratic Party lawmaker Lam Cheuk-ting believed the graft-buster might only be able to take action after Leung steps down in June.

“Of course the ICAC should pursue the case as soon as possible,” said Lam, a former investigator at the bribery watchdog. “But we all know the resistance [the investigators face] will only fade when Leung steps down,” he said.

There is also the added complication of Leung probably becoming a vice-chairman of the mainland’s top advisory body, the Chinese People’s Political Consultative Conference next month.

Lawyers say the position should not offer Leung any immunity from prosecution.