Former ICAC chief Timothy Tong Hin-ming yesterday denied using public money for personal networking.
At a Legislative Council committee hearing into his hospitality spending, Tong attributed the higher entertainment bills racked up during his five-year tenure at the Independent Commission Against Corruption to a rise in the number of visitors to the agency's headquarters in North Point after it opened in 2007.
He appeared before Legco's Public Accounts Committee to answer questions about expenses on anti-corruption education and entertainment during his term as commissioner from 2007 to 2012.
Civic Party lawmaker Alan Leong Kah-kit noted that funds allocated to the agency increased from HK$712 million to HK$824 million during Tong's term, but it carried out less anti-corruption education in the community.
The graft-busting agency reached about 23,000 people last year through talks, visits and meetings, a 25 per cent drop from 2008, the Audit Commission reported earlier.
Leong asked if Tong had used part of the money to buy mao-tai - strong Chinese liquor - to host receptions for officials from Beijing's liaison office in the city, and to build his personal network.
Tong strongly denied the claim. He said the drop in the number of people reached face to face was due to the ICAC moving part of its anti-corruption efforts online in order to reach more people.
"I cannot agree with that. I think it is an accusation," he said. "You asked if I had built a personal network; I have a clear and definite answer: no."
Gary Chan Hak-kan, of the Democratic Alliance for the Betterment and Progress of Hong Kong, noted that the ICAC started buying strong alcohol for receptions only after Tong took office.
Before 2007, the agency did not buy any hard liquor, he said, citing ICAC documents.
Tong said how guests were treated depended on their identity and status.
When Chan asked if Tong had ordered any subordinate to buy hard liquor, Tong declined to answer after consulting his lawyer.
Chan noted that the ICAC spent HK$480,000 on entertainment in the 2006-07 financial year, but HK$620,000 in 2007-08, after Tong took the helm. Entertainment expenditure peaked at HK$680,000 during 2010-11.
Tong said "thousands of guests" had visited Hong Kong every year from all over the world since the new headquarters opened, hence the increase in receptions. He attributed the 2010-11 rise to a series of international conventions the ICAC hosted.
Outside the hearing, Democratic Party chief executive Lam Cheuk-ting, a former ICAC investigator, said Tong had in a way admitted entertaining mainland officials. "Foreigners usually drink red or white wine. Only mainlanders like hard liquor."
How The Scandal Unfolded
April 17 Audit Commission reports two dinners hosted by ICAC, then led by Timothy Tong Hin-ming, for international anti-bribery event in December 2011 exceeded budget.
Late April More allegations about Tong surface in media, including gifts and lavish dinners for mainland officials.
May 2 Chief Executive Leung Chun-ying announces four-member independent committee to review ICAC's regulatory procedures for handling expenses on official entertainment, gifts and duty visits.
May 8 Legislative Council forms select committee, which has no legal power to summon witnesses or documents, to examine allegations.
May 14 ICAC announces launch of criminal investigation against Tong. The probe will be led by incumbent commissioner Simon Peh Yun-lu.
Yesterday Tong appears for the first time since the scandal in a hearing by Legco's Public Accounts Committee.