'Leave of absence' for Lily Chiang The first woman to lead the Hong Kong General Chamber of Commerce in its 147-year history has stepped aside after becoming embroiled in an ICAC investigation into stock option fraud. High-profile businesswoman Lily Chiang Lai-lei has agreed to take 'leave of absence'. The chamber announced last night it had accepted Chiang's request. Her duties would be temporarily taken up by the deputy chairman, Andrew Brandler, CLP Holdings chief executive, with immediate effect until further notice. The chamber said it would continue to function normally to serve its members and the public as usual. With the chamber's annual general meeting taking place in May and Chiang's case unlikely to be resolved by then, Mr Brandler is later expected to be named chairman. 'I think this case will take up a lot of my personal time,' Chiang told the South China Morning Post last night. 'The chamber is a great organisation and I am very honoured to have served it. As I have spent 60 per cent of my time on the chamber, I do not believe I can fully dedicate myself to its work. I do not want a personal matter to affect the chamber's excellent service to the business sector and community. Therefore, I have asked the chamber to let me take leave immediately.' Taking leave of absence would allow her to avoid further strife if the chamber forced her to resign, which board members had been prepared to do, senior chamber sources said. A general committee meeting of the chamber will be held on January 22 to discuss her fate. Chiang was quickly cold-shouldered by the chamber after the Independent Commission Against Corruption brought charges against her on Monday. As pressure mounted for her to distance herself from the chamber, retired banker and former chairman David Eldon, whom she succeeded in May last year, urged her to step aside. The case is expected to start on March 4. Mr Eldon said if Chiang was aware she was being investigated by the ICAC before she became chairwoman, 'it would have been sensible and ethically mature for her to seek a 'deferment' of her election'. However, it is understood that the case was referred to the ICAC last summer after Chiang was elected chairwoman. She was first interviewed by the ICAC at the end of October. A source close to Chiang said the businesswoman was disappointed with Mr Eldon's remarks. But senior chamber sources said members concurred with Mr Eldon's views. 'In the end, she's just prolonging the inevitable if she hangs on,' the sources said. The charges stem from allegations of stock option fraud at Pacific Challenge Holdings, a listed brokerage firm that Chiang ran. The ICAC alleges she and Shah Tahir Hussain, a former executive director of the company, conspired with others to defraud Pacific Challenge between February 1 and August 31, 2002. The charge of conspiracy to defraud alleges that they falsely represented that share options of the company were to be granted to subscribe to a total of 23.88 million shares. The pair also allegedly did not disclose that some or all of the employees in whose names the options would be granted would not be the beneficiaries. The ICAC has said it may bring further charges against Chiang.