Hong Kong leader’s threatened libel suit against Apple Daily ridiculous, says Transparency International head
Jose Carlos Ugaz comments on legal letter sent to newspaper over its comments concerning HK$50 million payment to Leung Chun-ying by UGL
The threatened libel suit against a popular local newspaper by Chief Executive Leung Chun-ying is “ridiculous”, the global head of anti-graft watchdog Transparency International said on Wednesday.
Last month, Leung’s lawyers sent Apply Daily a legal letter demanding the Chinese-language newspaper cease making allegations of impropriety over a payment of HK$50 million he received from Australian firm UGL before he took office in 2012.
The chief executive also demanded a statement of retraction be printed in the newspaper.
“It is ridiculous to [have a lawyer send in a legal letter] saying you should not talk about these issues because those are the issues that need to be open to the public ... for the circulation of ideas,” said Jose Carlos Ugaz, global chairman of the Berlin-based group.
“If you have not done anything wrong, why try to impede people to talk or investigate about those cases? That’s a terrible sign, ” Ugaz said at a media roundtable with Hong Kong journalists at the North Point headquarters of the Independent Commission Against Corruption (ICAC).
“Censorship will never be accepted by an organisation like ours,” Ugaz added, in response to a question about the issue raised by an Apply Daily journalist.
The newspaper has so far not agreed to Leung’s demand for an apology.
In comments to the media after the legal letter was sent to the newspaper, Leung defended the move. “Press freedom and the media’s responsibility to report the whole truth do not contradict one another,” he said.
Ugaz said he met Leung on Tuesday as part of a two-day visit to the city.
The Peruvian, best known for leading corruption investigations against deposed Peruvian president Alberto Fujimori, said he was convinced that Leung was sincere about combating corruption.
“What he said and the way he said it made me feel that he was [truthful] in his expression ... but I cannot get into his head or his soul,” Ugaz said.
Asked whether the Prevention of Bribery Ordinance should be further tightened to ensure a chief executive could be held to account for corruption, Ugaz said: “If there is such a gap in the legal system, it should be addressed”.
“Nobody should be above the law. If there are situations or allegations of wrongdoing, the state should have all the means in order to investigate that person if he is a king, a president, prime minister or chief executive,” Ugaz said.
Ugaz said he asked the current ICAC chief Simon Peh Yun-lu about the surprise replacement of high-flying graft-buster Rebecca Li Bo-Ian as the head of the operations department just a year after she took on the role.
The change in July prompted questions about whether Li was removed from the position because she refused to go soft on an ongoing investigation into the UGL payment received by Leung. The chief executive and the ICAC rejected the allegation.
“We heard about the case. We asked yesterday about it. We received a response ... [Peh] says it has nothing to do with the investigation [and] her departure,” Ugaz said.