Hong Kong graft-buster calls for more power to probe misconduct at highest levels
Anti-corruption watchdog says a change in legislation is necessary as current law makes it tough for officers to gather evidence of alleged wrongdoing by officials
A senior officer at Hong Kong’s anti-corruption watchdog has called for enhanced legislation to grant it more power to investigate claims of misconduct, as he looked back at the successful operation to put the city’s former No 2 official behind bars.
ICAC Director of Investigation (Government Sector) Ricky Yu Chun-cheong said the graft-buster had always hoped that the Independent Commission Against Corruption Ordinance could be reviewed in light of the offence of conspiracy to commit misconduct in public office, which was used in Hong Kong for the first time in the High Court drama of 2014.
He called for changes that would allow the ICAC to exercise the same power during a misconduct investigation as it did when tackling corruption.
Such a change could have an effect on the investigation – if still ongoing – into former chief executive Leung Chun-ying. The ICAC reportedly launched a probe earlier into a HK$50 million payment he received from Australia firm UGL before he became the city’s leader in 2012.
Yu’s call was echoed by some lawmakers and lawyers, though others cautioned that such a legislative change should only follow a consultation.
At the moment the anti-graft watchdog can only conduct searches and make seizures when it receives complaints of a corrupt or dishonest nature, as well as election fraud and obstruction of justice. These crimes are listed in section 10 of the ordinance that governs the agency.
ICAC officers face tougher challenges when gathering evidence on the alleged misconduct of officials that do not have an undertone of corruption.
“We can launch an investigation into [misconduct]. But for misconduct in public office alone, we lack sufficient power,” he said.
He shared his observation when recalling how he and his colleagues spent six years in building up their case against former chief secretary Rafael Hui Si-yan. Hui was the right-hand man of second chief executive Donald Tsang Yam-kuen, who was convicted in February of misconduct in public office for failing to declare a conflict of interest.
The ICAC’s efforts crystallised in a 131-day trial in 2014, which ended with Hui, developer Thomas Kwok Ping-kwong and two middlemen being jailed.
Lawmaker Paul Tse Wai-chung and former ICAC chief inspector Stephen Char Shik-ngor believed the ICAC should be given that extra power. Char also agreed that the power could help with the probe, if still continuing, into Leung.
The Legislative Council is also looking into Leung’s receipt of HK$50 million from UGL following its 2011 purchase of DTZ, an insolvent property company of which Leung was a director. Leung took the cash after his election as chief executive but did not declare it to his cabinet.
“[The change] can enhance [the ICAC’s] capabilities. Of course, you can say, it will help,” Char, also a barrister, said. He added that giving the ICAC the additional power would plug a loophole for mischief not covered under bribery offences.
Tse, who chairs the Legco committee investigating Leung, said the focus should be placed on the greater good – rather than individual cases – of removing barriers facing ICAC officers doing their work.
Neither Tse nor Char were worried about possible abuses of power. Pan-democrat lawmaker James To Kun-sun, however, was cautious, saying that more work should be done to avoid legislating too widely.