For the first time since the overspending scandal at the Independent Commission Against Corruption erupted, its former chief Timothy Tong Hin-ming admitted yesterday that he had made mistakes. But he insisted he was an honest man.
Tong's admission came after he was dragged back before the Legislative Council's Public Accounts Committee for a grilling that lasted more than three hours - with lawmakers intent on clarifying inconsistencies between Tong's earlier testimony to them and an independent report on ICAC's spending on entertainment, gifts and official visits.
At the end of it, he was told lawmakers still weren't satisfied and would be calling him back again in a matter of weeks.
Emerging from the session, Tong, who is subject to criminal inquiries over the scandal, said he would give a full account to the public after the case was closed.
"I made mistakes but they were not related to my integrity," he added. "An innocent man always remains so. If a line is drawn today to show the seriousness of my mistakes, I will admit it without hesitation.
"I am sorry for the damage I've brought to the ICAC."
Tong had just conceded to lawmakers that there had been "maladministration" concerning an official trip in which two senior officers who accompanied him to Brazil had upgraded their seats to business class without approval, costing HK$186,000.
But he said he had reservations about two issues raised in the independent report. It had criticised him for "excessive non-official activities" on two official visits to the mainland in 2009 and 2010, to which sightseeing trips were added.
In a 2009 trip to Yunnan , Tong admitted a visit to Lijiang had not been included in the application to the chief executive. However, he insisted the itinerary was prepared by mainland authorities and reckoned the chief executive's approval of the Yunnan trip meant it could cover "the whole province".
Lawmakers also asked about Tong's role in an accounting practice by the community relations department which meant the cost of alcohol was calculated separately from other entertainment expenses.
In earlier hearings, Tong had claimed he did not know anything about it. The independent report found a form had been introduced in 2008 - when Tong was in office - which, in effect, prevented the practice, but that the department stopped using the form after about six months.
"I did not focus on administrative issues," Tong said. "I was also not aware when and why [the form was] no longer in use."
Lawmaker Gary Chan Hak-kan, of the Democratic Alliance for the Betterment and Progress of Hong Kong, noted the purchase of maotai, a strong Chinese spirit, had soared after the department stopped using the form to claim expenses. He said Tong's evidence was "contradictory".
Democratic Party chief executive Lam Cheuk-ting, a former ICAC investigator, accused Tong of telling "lie after lie" and said it was impossible that he did not know about the rules on entertainment expenses.
Last month's independent report that triggered yesterday's hearing found rules had been breached on 42 occasions during Tong's five-year tenure, from 2007 to 2012.
Tong is now subject to criminal inquiries over at least two of the breaches.
Today, lawmakers will question incumbent commissioner Simon Peh Yun-lu and the ICAC's community relations director, Julie Mu Fee-man.