The government was in damage-control mode last night in the conflict-of-interest row over development minister Paul Chan Mo-po as his family members pledged to sell their stakes in land earmarked for a new town.
Pressure mounted on Chan to resign or step aside from responsibility for the development at Kwu Tung North, where his family owns 18,000 sq ft of farmland.
A source close to the government said it was considering options to minimise the damage caused by the political crisis, but Chan had not decided to resign as of yesterday. Chan is understood to have stayed away from the regular meeting with the chief executive and other ministers yesterday.
Statement Industries, the company through which the land was acquired in 1994 - now owned by family of Chan's wife, Frieda Hui Po-ming - said it would sell the land in an open tender at a market price assessed by an independent surveyor.
"Our company feels unease that the land acquisition that took place 19 years ago has stirred up public speculation after Chan's appointment as the secretary," the company said.
Hui said last night she and her family had suffered serious distress from the huge outcry. "I'm a professional and a career woman. I invested in land and properties. But I have stopped local investment and selling properties since Chan's appointment."
Chan admitted after a media exposé on Monday that his family owned the land in an area to be taken for public housing. It also emerged that his wife sold her share only in October, three months after Chan took over the Development Bureau.
He did not name the people behind the company or the selling price of the shares. Apple Daily, which made the original disclosure, said yesterday that Chan's son Chan Tian-hsing was appointed as a director of a company in 2008, but his name was not in a list of shareholders and directors made public yesterday.
Hong Kong Institute of Surveyors spokesman Lawrence Poon Wing-cheung said potential buyers would not offer more than the estimated government compensation of HK$17 million.
At the lowest, the land could go for HK$200 per sq ft, or about HK$3.6 million, still a tenfold gain on the HK$350,000 paid in 1994.
Records made public by the Companies Registry yesterday showed Hui sold her shares to her brother in October last year.
The remaining shares, previously held by two British Virgin Island companies, were transferred to two of Hui's relatives.
Democratic Party lawmaker James To Kun-sun urged Chan to quit and said the Democrats would move a motion of no confidence after the summer recess.
"He could never win the public's trust again." To said.
Pro-government lawmaker Ip Kwok-him said someone else should be assigned to take over the new town project.
"Some people hope to pull down the project by attacking Chan," Ip said.