Chief Executive Leung Chun-ying says he has reserved his judgment on the credibility of the explanation by his scandal-hit development minister Paul Chan Mo-po over his links to a company owning unauthorised subdivided flats.
Chan's fellow minister, transport and housing chief Professor Anthony Cheung Bing-leung, has also called for full disclosure on the controversy, while urging the public to give his embattled colleague more time to respond.
In a wide-ranging interview with TVB yesterday, Leung was asked if he was convinced by Chan's statement on Friday that he and his wife Frieda Hui Po-ming 'were not aware of' sub-leasing arrangements at two flats in Tai Kok Tsui and Jordan.
Leung confirmed he had talked to Chan about the controversy and said he believed the minister would give an account to the public, but declined to answer directly. Instead Leung said: 'I have no comment to make on the issue [Chan's explanation] at the moment. The public should listen extensively to different views, not only the queries but also the statements given by Chan and his wife.'
Evidence suggests Hui may have known the flats were subdivided. Her signature appears on an agreement with the Lands Department in 2009, which settled the outstanding land rent for the Jordan flat, which was subdivided into three units - showing she had oversight of the property.
Yesterday the Chinese-language newspaper Ming Pao Daily reported that a Land Registry document shows the Tai Kok Tsui flat had been subdivided into five units when it was bought in 1994 by Harvest Charm Development, a company co-owned by Hui and of which Chan was a director at the time. A spokesman for Chan reiterated yesterday that he was not aware of the leasing arrangements.
Chan, a close ally of Leung and the only member of the Legislative Council who nominated him to run for chief executive, took up his post as development minister on Monday. His predecessor in the job, Mak Chai-kwong, resigned on July 12, the day he, his wife and another couple were arrested by the Independent Commission Against Corruption on suspicion of bribery in connection with the alleged abuse of civil service housing allowance in the 1980s.
Chief Secretary Carrie Lam Cheng Yuet-ngor had pledged full support for Mak several days before he stepped down. However, Leung has not offered similar support to Chan, a move that the political scientist Ivan Choy Chi-keung, of Chinese University, says suggests the chief executive is trying to avoid being drawn into the row.
'It's consistent with Leung's character that he would only make politically correct remarks and would try to protect himself. But it's too early to tell whether Leung would abandon Chan,' Choy said.
Leung leaves Hong Kong today for a five-day holiday, during which time Lam will serve as acting chief executive. A government spokesman declined to say where Leung was going or when he made the decision to take leave.