A rising number of private sector corruption cases is a major concern, warns ICAC chief Anti-corruption chief Raymond Wong Hong-chiu has hit back at criticism of the ICAC's use of search warrants to raid newspaper offices and seize journalistic material. While he said the anti-graft agency was open to constructive suggestions, the Independent Commission Against Corruption boss described as 'dangerous' any moves to roll back its wide-ranging powers. And he warned that any slackening off in the battle against corruption could backfire at a time when graft in the private sector was on the rise because of 'smarter criminals'. In an article posted on the ICAC's website yesterday, Mr Wong said the recent wave of discussions on the agency's role and functions had led to some conclusions being drawn based on misunderstanding or a partial interpretation of the situation. The commissioner said reviews of the ICAC's investigative powers during the early 1990s had resulted in more checks and balances on the agency by requiring it to exercise most of its powers through the courts. 'Now the ICAC has to apply to the courts, with full justifications on each occasion, every time we wish to search premises for evidence of corruption, to stop a corrupt suspect from leaving the territory, to obtain information about property held by a suspect or to restrain a suspect from disposing of alleged corrupt proceeds,' he said. 'Is it still valid to say the ICAC possesses 'sweeping' powers?' He said the same applied to provisions under the Interpretation and General Clauses Ordinance on the handling of journalistic material. 'Such provisions could be invoked by a number of law enforcement agencies only after fulfilling all stipulated stringent requirements to the satisfaction of the court.' He was referring to the controversial ICAC search warrant application for journalistic materials in July. The agency obtained 14 search warrants for seven newspapers and several journalists in relation to an investigation into the leaking of the identity of a woman under its witness protection programme. Its actions were widely criticised by media groups locally and internationally, and a High Court judge later set aside the warrants after ruling that it was wrong in fact and in law for the ICAC to use tough search and seizure powers. The ICAC subsequently appealed against the decision in order to seek clarification of guidelines for law enforcement agencies. The appeal is due to be heard this week. Mr Wong said while corruption was now under control, the rising number of private sector corruption cases had become a growing concern. Private sector complaints totalled 2,472 last year, compared with 416 in 1974. It was particularly disturbing that the proportion of managers and professionals among private sector prosecutions had also gone up, he said. In the first seven months of this year, they comprised 80 per cent of all private sector prosecutions, up from 65 per cent on the corresponding period last year. Mr Wong said advances in technology, and corruption becoming increasingly intertwined with organised crime, made it more difficult to catch suspects. 'The days when truckloads of papers containing evidence against a corrupt criminal could be unearthed have long gone. We are facing ever more complicated corruption plots and smarter and more sophisticated criminals adept at hiding the money trails of corrupt transactions,' he said.