Missing Teresa Cheng must be seen to serve justice
- The public deserves an explanation on the decision not to prosecute former Hong Kong leader Leung Chun-ying, and silence has only politicised the case and undermined government credibility
The credibility and impartiality of the Department of Justice is on the line but Teresa Cheng Yeuk-wah is nowhere to be seen. The secretary for justice is on holiday until the end of this month. Well, work-life balance, you know, it’s important.
After a four-year investigation, her department and the Independent Commission Against Corruption have decided not to prosecute former chief executive Leung Chun-ying for conflict of interest over a HK$50 million payment.
This is surely one of the most important decisions made by the department under Cheng. The public deserves a proper explanation beyond an “I say so” response from officials, at a time when another former chief executive is still doing time for misconduct in public office.
People may disagree over the merits of the decision and hold opposing views on Leung’s guilt or innocence. But let’s leave that for the moment. Given the gravity of the case and public interest, Cheng is the most appropriate official to answer sceptics and critics. And yet, where is she?
Leung received HK$50 million from UGL after the Australian engineering conglomerate bought a British-listed firm of which he was a director. The transaction was made before he became chief executive, when he was widely considered a dark horse in the election race and had little chance of winning. However, some of the payment was made after he took office.
I don’t think the payment was necessarily corrupt, but the public has a legitimate interest to know and the justice department has a responsibility to put people at ease; and also to be fair to Leung so people don’t think he was given preferential treatment.
The poor explanation given by the department in Cheng’s absence has achieved the opposite. As pointed out by former chief prosecutor Grenville Cross, Cheng needs to answer basic questions:
● Was she involved in making the decision not to prosecute?
● Why did it take so long to investigate the case?
● Why was no outside legal counsel or second opinion sought?
But Cheng only deigns to appear at a regular Legislative Council meeting on January 28. By her absence, delays and dithering, she has conceded the whole field of public opinion to the opposition, which has been more than happy to politicise the case and undermine the credibility of the government and her department.