Pro-democracy activist Avery Ng found guilty of disclosing details of ICAC probe against top Hong Kong civil servant Betty Fung

Magistrate says actions of League of Social Democrats chairman were driven by urge to seek fame and had nothing to do with public interest

PUBLISHED : Friday, 11 May, 2018, 12:29pm
UPDATED : Friday, 11 May, 2018, 11:02pm

A pro-democracy activist in Hong Kong is facing jail after he was convicted on Friday of disclosing details of an investigation by the city’s graft-buster involving a complaint he lodged in 2016.

Avery Ng Man-yuen, 41, chairman of the League of Social Democrats, was found guilty of three counts of disclosing the identity of individuals being investigated, without lawful authority or reasonable excuse.

He was accused of revealing on social media and to reporters that Betty Fung Ching Suk-yee – who was the permanent secretary for home affairs between July 2014 and March this year – was under scrutiny by the Independent Commission Against Corruption.

In his verdict in Eastern Court, Magistrate Cheng Lim-chi said Ng disclosed such information to raise his profile and his actions had nothing to do with public interest as he had argued.

“He stated on his Facebook page it was time for him to raise his fame because of his low popularity,” Cheng said. “After studying the posts, I believe he disclosed the information [to do just that].”

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He added the information revealed by Ng could possibly have alerted Fung to any investigation against her and prepared her for it even if the probe was not disrupted.

Ng was accused of disclosing investigation details after he mentioned between April 5 and May 24, 2016 that he had been invited and was in the course of giving a witness statement as a complainant.

The offence carries a maximum penalty of a year behind bars and a HK$20,000 (US$2,547) fine.

The court previously heard that an ICAC investigator had reminded Ng not to disclose any details after he was invited to make a statement at the agency’s headquarters in North Point. But Ng revealed the invitation on his social media accounts and to reporters.

The investigator therefore changed the time and location of the interview and reminded Ng once again that revealing such details was forbidden. Ng replied: “I know what to do.”

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When Ng was giving a statement at the agency’s office in Yau Ma Tei, he updated his various social media accounts with posts saying “Taking statement at ICAC”, “A thousand people said I had low popularity. It’s time for me to promote my page” and “Very boring. Have waited for a long time”.

The posts included a selfie taken in an interview room with the ICAC logo.

“It’s not honest for Ng to say he doesn’t remember if he was reminded [about divulging information],” Cheng said.

The defence lawyer hoped the court would give Ng a fine, probation or a community service order. A jail term of more than three months would mean he would be barred from running for a Legislative Council seat while his action was intended to “encourage” the government official to come clean about accusations against her.

“As a politician, he has to let members of the public be aware of his existence and know about his work,” the lawyer said.

Citing a past case as an example, Cheng said he would use four months’ jail as the starting point for sentencing because Ng did not show any regret.

The court asked for a community service order report but Cheng said it might not be considered.

The case was adjourned to May 28 for sentencing. Ng was remanded in custody.

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Fung was appointed in March as the head of the Policy Innovation and Coordination Office, a revamped think tank which coordinates efforts across different government bureaus.

In 2016, she was accused in media reports of a conflict of interest after she acquired two properties in Happy Valley from a company held by Cheyenne Chan, a shareholder of a firm operating commercial helicopter services. Fung’s husband Wilson Fung Wing-yip was a civil servant in charge of aviation affairs from 2003 to 2006.

Fung had dismissed the reports as untrue.

Friday’s conviction was not Ng’s first brush with the law. Last October, he was sentenced to three weeks in jail for throwing a tuna sandwich at then chief executive Leung Chun-ying in 2016.