Probe into Timothy Tong throws up shortcomings in workings of ICAC

Probe into ex-chief Timothy Tong throws up instances in which ICAC employees have skirted budget limits during his five-year rule

PUBLISHED : Friday, 13 September, 2013, 12:00am
UPDATED : Friday, 13 September, 2013, 9:43pm

Independent investigators into the alleged lavish spending of Timothy Tong Hin-ming have revealed problems beyond his own misconduct during his time as ICAC chief - they exposed issues with the anti-graft agency itself.

In an 81-page report, the four-member committee pointed mainly to Tong's "non-compliances" and "shortcomings".

But they also found the community relations department and some officers of the Independent Commission Against Corruption had not complied with agency guidelines.

ICAC commissioner Simon Peh Yun-lu said: "All staff members who might have been involved with the violations mentioned in the report will be investigated. This is in accordance with established practices."

The committee conducted a four-month study following revelations that Tong spent hundreds of thousands of taxpayers' money on receptions, gifts and official visits during his five-year term as ICAC commissioner.

It found that alcoholic drinks that were bought at shops instead of restaurants were not always included as entertainment expenditure. An example was a dinner the agency hosted for an official delegation from the mainland in September 2007.

The department asked Tong to approve a HK$6,400 budget for 16 people - since dinner expenses were capped at HK$400 per person - without mentioning the cost of alcoholic drinks, which would be purchased separately.

Tong instructed the department to buy mao-tai, a Chinese liquor, instead of wine. The meal eventually cost HK$6,000 - with the alcohol costing another HK$1,796.

After the dinner, the department asked him to sign the receipt for the mao-tai.

"There was no documentation suggesting that [the department] had informed the former commissioner that the total expenditure exceeded the ceiling, and no justifications for exceeding the ceiling had been recorded," the report said.

Another example that came under scrutiny was an official visit Tong paid to the mainland in May 2010. He asked the department to see if he could return a day earlier. Eventually that did not happen, because of either the unavailability of air tickets or heavy charges for flight rescheduling, the department told the committee.

But the ICAC's administration branch said it could not recall any requests from the department to change Tong's schedule.

In April 2010, Tong travelled to a meeting in Brazil, and two officers who accompanied him were upgraded to business class on their flights. No approval was found for the seat upgrade, which cost HK$186,000 in total, the committee said.

The report obliterated 19 paragraphs and one annexe, "pending conclusion of relevant criminal investigation and/ or prosecution (if any)".

At one point, it mentions a HK$4,140 tiger-shaped ornament. The paragraph carries a footnote pointing to another paragraph, but that paragraph is omitted, signalling investigation of the ornament is ongoing. The same observation was made about the "direct procurement of eight digital photo frames".

Chinese-language daily Ming Pao reported a tiger-shaped ornament was given to Jia Chunwang , former head of the Supreme People's Procuratorate, and an album went to Procurator General Cao Jianming .

Former ICAC investigator Lam Cheuk-ting said Tong, when testifying in front of the Legislative Council's Public Accounts Committee, might have lied about having secured Chief Executive Leung Chun-ying's approval for every official visit he made during his tenure. Lam, who complained to the ICAC in April, said Tong should be investigated for perjury.

Meanwhile, Peh responded for the first time to recent suggestions that his agency had been "politicised". "My job duties do not include carrying out any political mission," he said. "As a law enforcer, it is of paramount importance that I am impartial and act according to the law."

On the high-profile approach some politicians adopted when complaining to the ICAC, he said: "There is no need to be high-profile, because … the way we investigate remains the same."