Panama Papers

Prominent Hong Kong politicians and businessmen named in new round of Panama Papers leaks

Former contender for chief executive Henry Tang, Asia’s richest man Li Ka-shing and two cabinet members among those listed as owning offshore companies

PUBLISHED : Wednesday, 20 April, 2016, 10:34am
UPDATED : Thursday, 21 April, 2016, 12:00am

Four more Hong Kong lawmakers, all from the pro-establishment camp, have joined the list of prominent politicians and business leaders revealed to have stakes in offshore companies set up in world-famous tax havens, according to the latest batch of Panama Papers examined by the South China Morning Post.

Also in the documents, provided by the International Consortium of Investigative Journalists, are two members of Chief Executive Leung Chun-ying’s cabinet – development minister Paul Chan Mo-po and Executive Council member Bernard Chan – sparking fresh calls for a tighter system of interest declaration and transparency.

In his defence, Paul Chan said he was not involved in an offshore firm run by his family, while Bernard Chan said he had made all necessary disclosures.

The papers also revealed former chief secretary Henry Tang Ying-yen, Leung’s election rival in 2012, owned an offshore company in the British Virgin Islands that ran a private jet business. Three days before he took up the post of commerce minister in 2002, Tang transferred his shares in Fair Alliance to his father for a token price of US$1.

Tang yesterday denied any wrongdoing or conflict of interest, saying he had made the required disclosures “in strict accordance” with Exco and government rules, although critics argued the system was still far from transparent.

New People’s Party lawmaker Michael Tien Puk-sun apologised for not disclosing his stake in an offshore firm as well that he claimed was only for membership at a Shenzhen golf course.

The four lawmakers making a debut in the leaked papers are Andrew Leung Kwan-yuen, Ann Chiang Lai-wan, Paul Tse Wai-chun and Yiu Si-wing. While all of them played by the rules – disclosing assets in which they had a 1 per cent stake or more – their pan-democratic counterparts in the legislature started calling for tighter scrutiny.

Accountancy sector lawmaker Kenneth Leung demanded a review of the system for officials, executive councillors and legislators to reveal their assets.

“Even if there isn’t a review… there should be a clearer guidance for [officials and politicians]. Even with the help of lawyers, it may not be clear what the requirements for declaration of interest are because there are only a few lines. It’s difficult to interpret,” he said.

Democratic Party leader Emily Lau Wai-hing, deputy chair of the Legislative Council’s Committee on Members’ Interests, agreed but added that such changes would take time and might only be possible in the next Legco session.

Former civil service minister Joseph Wong Wing-ping urged the government to review its “dysfunctional” declaration system and ban officials from holding stakes in any offshore company.

“Members of the public might exhaust legal loopholes to avoid taxes, which is completely legal,” Wong said. “But it is not acceptable for the public officials to manage their assets secretly as it is unsure whether they would abuse their power for self interest.”

He said Hong Kong had no choice but to follow the global trend to tighten interest declaration systems and improve transparency in the wake of the Panama Papers, named after the country where the law firm holding the confidential documents was based.

Another focus for Hong Kong in the latest round of revelations is on nationality – a sensitive issue in a city where holders of key public offices come under pressure to explain a non-Chinese nationality.

Lau Ming-wai, chairman of the Committee on Youth, was revealed to have said he was a British national in one of the leaked documents. In response, Lau said he had no plan to switch nationality.

Additional reporting by Tony Cheung and Owen Fung

Well-known Hong Kong figures named in the Panama Papers:

Henry Tang Ying-yen: Standing Committee member of Chinese People’s Political Consultative Conference – Transferred his shares of a firm running private jet business, co-owned by Wing Tai Properties chairman Christopher Cheng Wai-chee, to his father three days before he was appointed commerce minister in 2002.

Paul Chan Mo-po, Secretary for Development – Owns two offshore firms that first came to light when he was revealed to own land interests in a redeveloped area in 2013

Michael Tien Puk-sun, New People’s Party lawmaker – Fails to disclose with the Legislative Council and the Poverty Commission his joint ownership with his wife of a BVI company, which he claimed was used only for purchasing a golf club membership in Shenzhen.

Lau Ming-wai, Chairman of Commission on Youth – Found to be a British national and owns several offshore companies.

Paul Tse Wai-chun, pro-establishment lawmaker – Owns two offshore firms and his spouse Pamela Peck Wan-kam owns a third one.

Li Ka-shing, Cheung Kong Property chairman – CK Hutchison Holdings owned at least six Panama firms with Mossack Fonseca and he owned a few more via other law firms.

Ng Lap-seng, Macau businessman charged by US authorities with bribing former United Nations leaders – Owned a BVI firm that ran South-South News, which had been granted the right to be stationed in the UN headquarters despite its lack of journalistic track record.

Sun Hung Kai Properties chairman Raymond Kwok Ping-luen and his brothers, Thomas Kwok Ping-kwong and Walter Kwok Ping-sheung, are current and former directors of more than 20 offshore companies.