Hong Kong’s Lew Mon-hung: How the maverick turned from an ally of Leung Chun-ying to an enemy and took on pan-democratic causes

The man who swam to Hong Kong 40 years ago accuses the chief executive of breaking promises to him

PUBLISHED : Monday, 29 February, 2016, 9:56pm
UPDATED : Monday, 29 February, 2016, 10:57pm

Businessman Lew Mon-hung – better known for his moniker Dreambear – has come a long way considering that the former ally of Chief Executive Leung Chun-ying literally swam to the city some 40 years ago before eventually rising to the heights of business and politics.

“I ventured into the fragrant harbour with nothing more than swimwear,” he repeatedly told the District Court, which sentenced him to 18 months in jail on Monday.

READ MORE: Controversial Hong Kong businessman Lew Mon-hung found guilty of perverting course of justice, faces 18 months in jail

But arguably, no side of him fascinated the city more than his bittersweet entanglement with Leung – the man Lew said he helped climb to the very top.

Lew, 67, was convicted on Monday of perverting the course of justice by sending Leung an email and letter urging him to stop an investigation.

Lew blamed Leung in court for having a part to play in his fall from grace. But for many, what has become increasingly apparent is that the chief executive might have played a role in softening the former loyalist’s previous stern pro-Beijing view.

Over the past three years – the time when he was falling out with Leung – Lew has gone from a member of the Chinese People’s Political Consultative Conference, the country’s top advisory body, to a supporter of pan-democrat Alvin Yeung Ngok-kiu.

The Civic Party member who was endorsed by Lew in a text message that went viral online, won the New Territories East by-election just hours before Lew was jailed.

Arriving in court on Monday, Lew admitted the endorsement nonchalantly . “The [election] result turned out to be what I expected. So I was quite happy,” he said about Yeung’s victory.

The relationship with Leung Chun-ying started in 1996 at an event about the disputed Diaoyu Islands in the East China Sea when the two met for the first time. “You have a nice voice,” Lew, who spoke on stage, recalled Leung allegedly telling him.

Fast forward 14 years to 2010 and Leung approached him in Beijing to asked him if he could help sway public opinion to his side, he told the court.

READ MORE: Lew Mon-hung – the man who turned his back on Hong Kong’s chief executive

He eventually agreed to help out and in doing so, the court heard he pitched Leung to Ma Ching-kwan, then chairman of the Oriental Press Group, publisher of Oriental Daily and The Sun. The meeting was almost compromised by a hiccup, but Lew managed to salvage it.

In the following year, Lew got a hint from the director of the Hong Kong and Macau Affairs Office, Wang Guangya, in Beijing that Leung would become chief executive, he told the court.

Lew even went to Leung’s then rival Henry Tang Ying-yen’s doorstep, to hand out flyers urging Tang to withdraw from the chief executive race.

But things began to sour after Leung was elected when what were supposed to be agreements turned out to be empty promises.

Lew told the court that Leung originally promised to include Lew in the Executive Council, but in a meeting with Lew and former Exco member Barry Cheung Chun-yuen, Leung changed tune. According to Lew, Leung allegedly told him he would be better off not being bound by Exco’s confidentiality rules given his wit.

Another promise by Leung to nominate Lew to become a CPPCC standing committee member also failed to materialise, the businessman told the court.

Lew then became increasingly critical of Leung in his newspaper columns.

It culminated in early 2013 when Lew revealed in an explosive interview with anti-establishment Chinese-language weekly iSun Affairs details of Leung’s alleged broken promises and his alleged illegal structures at his home on The Peak. This came weeks after Lew’s arrest.

Lew has since been no stranger to high-profile protests such as the July 1 rally in 2014 against Beijing’s controversial white paper on Hong Kong’s autonomy and a recent one against the abduction of Causeway Bay Books publisher Lee Po.

At the height of the Lee Po saga in January, which coincided with his trial, Lew was not shy to express his opinions during court breaks. He said it would be a breach of the Basic Law if Lee was abducted.

Meanwhile, after learning about Yeung’s victory, he said before entering court: “I will help improve one country, two systems ... by neither allowing Hong Kong to turn into a sovereign state nor one country, one system.”