Malaysian architect Dr Ken Yeang said he only learned yesterday that he was disqualified from a design contest held 10 years ago, a competition now at the centre of a conflict-of-interest row involving chief executive hopeful Leung Chun-ying.
The architect said officials organising the West Kowloon Reclamation Concept Plan Competition, of which Leung was a judge, never explained to him what happened.
Leung has denied any conflict of interest but confirmed that a director of his firm, DTZ Holdings, had, on request and without payment, given data on land values to Yeang's team. Yeang's entry named DTZ as a property adviser in its submission.
But Yeang said yesterday: 'In the haste in making a competition submission, we may not have informed Mr Leung or his colleagues that his firm was named in the submission.' Staff involved had since left his firm, he added.
Yeang said he did not know Leung personally and did not know he was a member of the jury.
His comments raise more questions about why the government revealed Yeang's disqualification just weeks before the chief executive election. Critics said that in doing so the administration had favoured Leung's chief rival, Henry Tang Ying-yen.
On Wednesday the government issued a statement saying Leung, who took part in judging of the competition in 2002, had not declared his interest before voting on anonymous entries. The timing of the government statement alerting the media to Leung's alleged indiscretion raised suspicions, especially as that was followed minutes later by one clearing Tang of a similar alleged transgression in 2007.
'The competition organiser did not inform us that our scheme was disqualified, nor did it explain why, nor make available an appeal mechanism for us. We were just informed that our scheme was not accepted,' Yeang said.
He believed the organisers did not give his plan for the site that will become the West Kowloon Cultural District a fair chance, as a member of the judging panel later told him he had not seen Yeang's concept.
According to a government report, 13 entries were disqualified for failing to meet 'specific non-technical respects'. But the report gave no details and did not mention Leung's role. The winning designs were eventually scrapped a plan by British architect Norman Foster won a subsequent design contest.
The Journalists Association said it was good the government released information to the press, but doubted whether the government would do the same on other sensitive issues.
Professor Chang Hsin-kang, former president of City University and a judge for the contest, said the panel did not have a serious discussion over Leung and Yeang. 'If my memory doesn't fail me, we were not told that an entry was disqualified because of Leung. If it was of serious concern, I would remember,' Chang said.
Asked if he thought Leung had done anything wrong, Chang said: 'We can only declare interests to the best of our knowledge. The entrants themselves have the utmost duty to check the list of jurors.'
He said the government should release the minutes of the meetings to clarify the situation.
Vincent Ng Wing-shun, vice-president of the Institute of Urban Design, said although there is no standard practice in Hong Kong for an organiser of a design competition to inform disqualified entrants of their status, 'common sense tells you it is reasonable to do so'.
Secretary for Home Affairs Tsang Tak-sing, whose department is responsible for the arts hub project, said the government released the information in response to a media inquiry.
Meanwhile, a newspaper claimed that Leung received an 'extended benefit' from his relationship with Yeang, as both their firms took part in a Beijing housing project in 2007. Yeang denied benefiting from the Beijing project. He said he had no role in the management of the mainland firm that developed the flats. Leung said he had never had any contact with Yeang.
He published a half-page advert in several Chinese newspapers yesterday to reiterate his defence.