Timothy Tong’s ‘unduly close’ links with mainland ‘may have harmed ICAC’

Legco report criticises former ICAC chief for shaking public confidence in the impartiality of the commission - and for a 'lack of prudence'

PUBLISHED : Wednesday, 09 July, 2014, 5:03pm
UPDATED : Thursday, 10 July, 2014, 8:18am

Former anti-corruption chief Timothy Tong Hin-ming "tarnished the reputation" of the Independent Commission Against Corruption (ICAC) by wining and dining mainland officials and handing over expensive gifts, a Legislative Council report said yesterday.

The 126-page document - which comes just months after a strongly worded public accounts committee report - questioned the "unduly close contacts" between Tong and mainland officials.

The report also expressed "deep regret" at the ICAC's selective withholding of information by "tricky" means during the Legco investigation.

The report stated: "The select committee is concerned whether Mr Tong had thoroughly considered that unduly close contacts between him and mainland officials in Hong Kong during his tenure might have shaken public confidence in the impartiality of the ICAC and himself as the commissioner of the ICAC in handling alleged corruption cases involving mainland officials."

It went on to criticise Tong by saying a third of all meals paid for by the ICAC broke its budget - with public money blown on expensive drinks such as Maotai and gifts given to mainland officials.

"The ways he handled such matters are not commensurate with the values of probity and integrity advocated by the ICAC and fall short of public expectations of the commissioner of the ICAC, and have damaged the image of the ICAC, thus tarnishing its reputation," the report noted.

Tong yesterday hit back in a statement issued by his lawyers, blaming extensive media coverage for damaging the ICAC's reputation and saying that the report did not harm his integrity.

"How could I alone be able to easily shake the image and reputation of an internationally acclaimed ... professional law-enforcement body?" he asked.

He also questioned what rules he had broken, saying "no one ever gives [me] an answer" and claimed the report had done him "justice". He even welcomed it for "clearing my name".

The report also criticised Tong for both giving and receiving gifts. Some gifts were given to Tong personally, the report said.

He was also criticised for arranging 35 work trips costing a total of almost HK$4 million and bestowing HK$282,000 worth of gifts to both mainland and overseas officials.

"Mr Tong ignored the principle of frugality and the need to avoid extravagance [and] lacked the prudence expected of him as the commissioner of the ICAC," the report said.

In November last year, he was reprimanded for his "deplorable" overspending in a Legco public accounts committee report.

The new report advised that duty visits should "only be undertaken ... on an 'absolute need' basis", which the chief executive should consider when approving such applications. It also advised that any gift given to the commissioner worth more than HK$400 should be made public. The committee's suggestions are non-binding.

However, the five pan-democrats on the committee refused to endorse the report, saying it was an attempt by pro-government legislators to play down the scandal.