Hong Kong leader denies holding secret talks with rural leaders over Yuen Long development plan

Chief Executive Leung Chun-ying says he discussed controversial Wang Chau project only with government officials, but critics want proper explanation

PUBLISHED : Saturday, 17 September, 2016, 10:39pm
UPDATED : Sunday, 18 September, 2016, 2:12am

Chief Executive Leung Chun-ying denied personally lobbying rural leaders opposed to a controversial public housing project in Yuen Long that has been linked to death threats against a newly elected lawmaker, after media reports on Saturday leaked documents suggesting otherwise.

His office issued a statement saying Leung had “never discussed the Wang Chau development with people not in the government”, and rejecting the suggestion that his “soft lobbying” had prompted a village leader who operated car parks at the site to give him high-profile support.

While the Chief Executive’s Office slammed the allegations as “fabricated and unfounded”, the official denial was not enough to satisfy nine lawmakers who will submit a joint letter to the government on Sunday, demanding a proper explanation.

The leaked documents reportedly show the chief executive chairing a task force on building 17,000 public rental flats at a brownfield site in Wang Chau. The project was contentiously scaled down to 4,000 flats and shifted to a nearby greenbelt site.

The government clarified on Saturday night that Leung had chaired one meeting on Wang Chau in June 2013, after which the work was handled by the relevant bureaus and departments.

The controversy is at the centre of a political storm after newly elected lawmaker Eddie Chu Hoi-dick complained of death threats which have been linked to rural strongmen and triad gangsters affected by his long-running campaign against powerful village business interests over New Territories land rights.

One of two lawmakers-elect who met two government ministers over Wang Chau on Thursday called on the chief executive to be transparent about his role.

“If he was the chairman [of the task force], that would be very strange,” Edward Yiu Chung-yim said. “[Housing minister] Anthony Cheung Bing-leung told me even he was not involved in the work and he delegated it to the Housing Department.”

The Chinese-language Apple Daily newspaper on Saturday cited documents showing the government carried out two rounds of “soft lobbying” with community leaders in 2013, although the housing minister has told the media there is no official record of it.

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But Leung Che-cheung, who chaired the Yuen Long district council at the time, recalled the government side was represented by Deputy Housing Director Ada Fung Yin-suen when they met a few years ago.

“I found it strange that the lobbying was not done by the Development Bureau or Lands Department, as not all the land in question was without dispute,” he said. “The chief executive has said on some occasions that we should support the housing plans while the transport facilities could be provided later. I disagree with that.”

Leung of the pro-establishment Democratic Alliance for the Betterment and Progress of Hong Kong also confirmed the initial target of 17,000 units was never raised in the district council. He cited the omission as a reason for the current public outcry.