Departing Hong Kong anti-graft director rejects suggestions of Beijing interference in ICAC’s operations

  • Ricky Yu Chun-cheong, who is stepping down after 39 years with the Independent Commission Against Corruption, says he never felt pressure when doing his job
  • He adds that checks and balances on the commission’s operations have never been as strong as they are now
PUBLISHED : Monday, 29 October, 2018, 7:00am
UPDATED : Monday, 29 October, 2018, 7:14am

The outgoing investigation chief of Hong Kong’s graft-buster has rejected any notion of interference by mainland Chinese authorities in the operations of the Independent Commission Against Corruption (ICAC) amid increasing cross-border ties, insisting checks and balances on its work are stronger than ever.

“Personally, I have never been given any order to do or not do certain things,” said Ricky Yu Chun-cheong, the ICAC’s director of investigation (government sector), as he concludes his 39-year career, which began in the days of the British colonial administration.

Yu will make way for his assistant director Eric Tong Wing-tak on November 2.

His remarks came just three months after ICAC commissioner Simon Peh Yun-lu reiterated that the commission had been tasked by Beijing to help state agencies stamp out corruption in the wider region as part of the country’s “Belt and Road Initiative”, an ambitious global trade project featuring more than 60 countries across three continents.

But Yu, who helped bring down some of the city’s highest officials during his career, stressed the ICAC in the city had been subject to strict monitoring and that he had never felt under pressure when carrying out his duties.

Yu said the central government was only one of various authorities, including some in other countries, that the ICAC had been in close contact with. This was a common occurrence, he added, when it came to collecting evidence as corruption cases had become increasingly sophisticated.

He also said the checks and balances on ICAC’s operations had never been as strong as now. He stressed that every decision from his department had been under the scrutiny of an independent operations review committee, the press and the public.

Yu, 61, who spent a few months working at the Post before joining the ICAC as an assistant investigator in 1979, said he had witnessed the situation improve from the corruption-laden 1980s to the situation at present in which, he said, a society free of corruption was taken for granted.

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Over the decades, Yu has led or taken part in many high-profile cases, one of the most recent ones being the case involving Rafael Hui Si-yan, who served as the city’s chief secretary from 2005 to 2007. Hui was found to have taken bribes from the developer Thomas Kwok Ping-kwong, of Sun Hung Kai Properties. Kwok was jailed for five years, and Hui was ordered to serve seven ½ years after their appeals were rejected last year.

Yu was also behind the investigation that led to the jailing last year of Hui’s then supervisor, former chief executive Donald Tsang Yam-kuen, who was found guilty of misconduct in public office, for failing to disclose his interest in a Shenzhen penthouse owned by local radio station owner Bill Wong Cho-bau.

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But he said his most memorable case was the investigation into an HK$8 billion cigarette smuggling case in the 1990s, which led to a key witness, Tommy Chui To-yan, being murdered and dumped in the sea in Singapore.

Yu said the resilience the ICAC had learned from that case helped it negotiate stormy seas in recent years, as it faced a number of incidents that he believed had threatened the agency’s image.

Personally, I have never been given any order to do or not do certain things
Ricky Yu Chun-cheong

One of these was a scandal in 2014 when the agency’s former commissioner, Timothy Tong Hing-ming, was found to have bought mainland officials gifts using public money.

Another included the resignation of ICAC’s first ­female head of operations, Rebecca Li Bo-lan, in 2016, after commissioner Simon Peh Yun-lu terminated her acting appointment and asked her to step back into her previous role as director of investigations for the public sector.

Pro-democracy lawmakers linked her demotion to an investigation she was leading into the HK$50 million payment that then chief executive Leung Chun-ying received from the Australian company UGL.

Yu said he did not know enough to comment on the incident, but added: “Every institution has its own challenges and the very same things would happen to them.

“With every one of these incidents we improve ourselves.”