An independent committee will examine claims that the former head of the ICAC, Timothy Tong Hin-ming, spent lavish sums of public money entertaining mainland officials, the chief executive announced yesterday.
The four-member committee, reporting directly to Leung Chun-ying, will also look at the regulations governing official entertainment.
Its establishment follows revelations that Tong spent hundreds of thousands of dollars from the public purse on receptions, gifts and duty visits during his five-year tenure as commissioner of the Independent Commission Against Corruption.
Some of the spending exceeded official limits but was approved by Tong himself.
Critics said the committee was likely to produce little more than a whitewash and should have been headed by a judge.
It will review the ICAC's regulatory procedures for handling expenses on official entertainment, gifts and duty visits.
It will also check whether ICAC staff of all ranks complied with the regulations during Tong's tenure and will make recommendations. Leung said the committee would release its findings in four months and denied he consulted Beijing before making the decision. "It is totally within Hong Kong's autonomy," he said. The committee members are all chairmen of advisory bodies overseeing the work of the ICAC.
It will be headed by Chow Chung-kong, chairman of the advisory committee on corruption. The other members are Albert Au Siu-cheung, Professor John Leong Chi-yan and Dr Leong Che-hung.
The Legislative Council's Public Accounts Committee will look into two lavish dinners Tong hosted with mainland officials. Corruption complaints have also been made to the ICAC.
Leung said the committee would co-ordinate its work with the two inquiries. But pan-democrats were disappointed at the lack of a commission with legal power chaired by a judge.
Democratic Party chief executive Lam Cheuk-ting, a former ICAC investigator, suspected Leung did not want to embarrass mainland officials and tycoons for whom Tong gave receptions.
He said: "There is already a conflict of interest when [the issue] is reviewed by members of ICAC advisory committees.
"The credibility … is far less than that of an independent commission chaired by a judge."
Civic Party lawmaker Dennis Kwok Wing-hang intends to propose to the Legislative Council's House Committee today that the Powers and Privileges Ordinance be used to probe the scandal.
"The committee is neither here nor there. It will just be procrastination and a whitewash. It cannot provide an all-rounded account to the public," he said.
But Ip Kwok-him, lawmaker of the Democratic Alliance for the Betterment and Progress of Hong Kong, welcomed the establishment of the committee.
Leung said he believed it would be effective as members were familiar with the ICAC's work. An ICAC spokesman pledged full assistance.