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West Kowloon Cultural District

Lawmaker urges Chief Secretary Carrie Lam to disclose details of negotiations with Jockey Club leading up to HK$3.5 billion Hong Kong Palace Museum deal

Eddie Chu Hoi-dick lists a string of recent events, questioning whether the donation was in fact a ‘transaction’

PUBLISHED : Friday, 06 January, 2017, 9:53pm
UPDATED : Saturday, 07 January, 2017, 1:30am

Chief Secretary Carrie Lam Cheng Yuet-ngor is facing mounting pressure to reveal details of the government’s negotiations with the Hong Kong Jockey Club, which led to a multibillion-dollar museum funding deal.

Last month it emerged the Jockey Club’s Charities Trust would fund the HK$3.5 billion needed for the Hong Kong Palace Museum at the West Kowloon Cultural District.

The closed-door arrangement, initiated by the government, effectively allowed officials to bypass public scrutiny arising from the ordinary funding procedures of the Legislative Council.

At a special Legco meeting on Friday, Lam said discussions with the club prior to the donation were confidential and the WKCD could not fund the project.

Hong Kong’s Palace museum plan started from ‘casual chat’, Carrie Lam reveals

Listing a string of recent events, lawmaker Eddie Chu Hoi-dick pressed Lam to disclose all relevant documents relating to the negotiations.

He said after Lam approached the Jockey Club over the museum funding in late 2015, the government renewed the lease of the Sha Tin racecourse, which is managed by the club, for another 50 years.

The renewal in June last year quickly drew criticism for being notably longer than the previous 15-year lease and allowing the Jockey Club to pay a premium for a clubhouse to hold members-only events unrelated to racing – an activity previously only allowed with official approval.

Chu noted that the Executive Council had also approved the addition of five horse racing days in June, which could yield an extra HK$6 billion pool investment every year for the club.

In July, the club’s CEO Winfried Engelbrecht-Bresges was awarded a Gold Bauhinia Star. Lam was the chairwoman of the committee responsible for selecting awardees.

Hong Kong critics slam government move to seek public views on controversial Palace Museum

“What is at stake is whether it is a transaction with the Jockey Club to secure its HK$3.5 billion funding,” Chu said at Friday’s meeting.

But Lam dismissed his suggestions, labelling them as “groundless” and “smearing”.

The Jockey Club similarly refuted Chu’s suggestions.

“The club wishes to refute any suggestion that the [museum] donation is in any way linked to the club’s business initiatives. Any such suggestion is wholly without foundation,” a spokeswoman said.

The spokeswoman added that the museum funding would not impact the Jockey Club’s other regular charitable donations, and the company had a “well-established and stringent process” to screen and evaluate donation applications.

“A due diligence exercise is always conducted and funding is approved based on the merits of the project under consideration. The [museum] is no exception,” she said.