Scandal-hit former graft-buster chief Timothy Tong Hin-ming admitted for the first time yesterday that he took personal friends to business meals paid for with public money.
Under questioning by lawmakers at his third and final appearance before the Legislative Council's public accounts committee, Tong also admitted that he had received a gift of a traditional Chinese screen worth as much as HK$200,000 from mainland judicial officials in 2007. It was still in ICAC headquarters when he stepped down last year.
The former Independent Commission Against Corruption chief also confirmed he bought about 1,000 bottles of alcohol during his five years in charge.
Independent lawmaker Paul Tse Wai-chun asked Tong if he had taken former assistant immigration director Dr Helen Chan Wing-mui - widely reported to be his girlfriend - and tycoon friend Bill Wong Cho-bau to receptions paid for by public money.
Tse suggested he may have taken Chan to such functions as many as 10 times. Tong replied: "To my recollection, there were not many times. But I have done it before. I dare not say if there were five times. I don't know."
He admitted work-related issues were discussed on these occasions, saying Wong had once given him some ideas on how to film a promotional video for the ICAC. He failed to explain why he had treated Chan to meals.
Tong said he only remembered paying his friends' bill at a restaurant once.
He said the most expensive gift he had received during his term was a large traditional screen worth HK$100,000 to HK$200,000 from the Supreme People's Procuratorate to mark the opening of the ICAC headquarters in North Point in 2007.
Committee chairman Abraham Razack asked if he had ever thought it inappropriate to receive such an expensive gift. Tong said neither the work nor the reputation of ICAC would be affected, but then admitted the commission had shown its "gratitude" for the gift.
The committee also heard Tong had bought 1,000 bottles of alcohol during his term, including 125 bottles of spirits, of which 114.5 were consumed. His successor, Simon Peh Yun-lu, has bought 137 bottles of wine since becoming commissioner in July.
Tong said he had "rarely" treated officials from Beijing's liaison office to the spirits.
"I have a habit of drinking alcohol, but it does not mean I like drinking it on official occasions," he said.
Despite the revelations, Tong, who is now a member of the Chinese People's Political Consultative Conference, the country's top political advisory body, said he believed the inquiry would find that he had done nothing to further his personal interests.
"Until December last year, I had never thought of becoming a CPPCC member," he said, adding that he found the hearing stressful but meaningful.
Razack said later that Tong failed to answer many key questions in over 10 hours of inquiries, but he would still write a report based on what Tong had said.