Leung Chun-ying

Opposition ramps up bid to impeach Hong Kong leader for intervening in fee probe

Political storm takes new twist after pro-establishment lawmaker quits panel investigating HK$50 million payment to chief executive

PUBLISHED : Friday, 19 May, 2017, 12:15pm
UPDATED : Friday, 19 May, 2017, 11:21pm

Opposition lawmakers are ramping up a bid to impeach Hong Kong’s leader, less than two months before he steps down, for intervening in a probe into his past business dealings, along with the pro-establishment lawmaker who helped him.

The decision came hours after Holden Chow Ho-ding quit the Legislative Council select committee set up to investigate Chief Executive Leung Chun-ying for a possible conflict of interest over failing to declare the HK$50 million he received from Australian engineering firm UGL.

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Chow insisted he did nothing wrong by allowing Leung to get involved behind the scenes as lawmakers were deciding on the scope of the investigation.

With pan-democratic lawmakers clamouring for his resignation, Chow said he was quitting the panel in the hope of calming the political storm.

Controversy erupted on Monday after a document from Chow, which was submitted to the select committee on April 26, was found to contain changes that were traced to the user names “CEO-CE” – meaning the chief executive.

You are a lawyer. Do you have any sense of shame when you said you didn’t hide anything?
Dennis Kwok, Civic Party

Speaking after a weekly meeting of their camp on Friday, Democratic Party lawmaker James To Kun-sun said impeaching Leung was a “matter of principle”.

“Although Leung’s term will expire in about a month [June 30], we still believe we should do it as the incident was so serious.”

An impeachment motion must be jointly tabled by at least a quarter of Legco’s 70 members.

To said the opposition camp hoped to finalise the wording of the impeachment motion on Monday so that it could be tabled at a full council meeting on June 7.

On that day, pan-democrat lawmaker Claudia Mo Man-ching is also scheduled to table a motion to censure Chow, vice-chairman of the Democratic Alliance for the Betterment and Progress of Hong Kong.

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At a meeting of Legco’s house committee on Friday, Mo accused Chow of “failing to admit his misbehaviour”.

“Chow said he did not hide anything or break any rule, but the public impression is exactly the opposite,” she said.

Dennis Kwok of the Civic Party said: “You are a lawyer. Do you have any sense of shame when you said you didn’t hide anything? You told us repeatedly last month that these amendments were done by you alone.”

Chow’s political allies, including New People’s Party chairwoman Regina Ip Lau Suk-yee, defended him. “Chow is young and inexperienced, I think the incident should end here,” she said.

Earlier this week, Leung tried to turn the table on his critics by demanding that pan-democrat Kenneth Leung should resign from the committee. He accused the lawmaker, whom he is suing for alleged defamation, of being prejudiced against him.

Pro-establishment lawmaker Wong Kwok-kin also proposed disbanding the committee to start afresh, but the pan-democrats opposed it.

After a three-hour closed-door meeting on Friday, committee chairman Paul Tse Wai-chun said members had agreed not to disband, and were undecided on whether Kenneth Leung should quit.

The chief executive had previously suggested the scope of the probe was not comprehensive enough, and on Thursday he formally submitted a proposal asking the committee to examine the authenticity of a handwritten clause which he had inserted into the UGL agreement.

But Tse dismissed his suggestions, saying the committee’s terms of reference would cover the issues raised already.

Writing on his official blog on Friday morning, the chief executive reiterated that he had never been contacted or investigated by any tax authority of any jurisdiction over the UGL deal. He insisted again that Kenneth Leung was prejudiced against him.

Leung Chun-ying further wrote on Friday night that “it was extremely regrettable for pan-democrats to make use of the [UGL] incident to mount a relentless political attack ... and create the impression that I’m being investigated or targeted.”

He added that two British law enforcement agencies had said two years ago that they would not follow up on the agreement.

The pan-democrats previously tried to impeach Leung after revelations emerged of unauthorised structures at his home on The Peak. The motion was voted down in January 2013.

Under Legco rules, lawmakers do not need to vote on whether a member can table a motion to censure a colleague. The tabling of a censure motion will trigger an investigation, leading to disqualification if the motion is passed by a two-thirds majority.

The select committee was set up last year at the behest of the pan-democrats after it emerged that Leung had received HK$50 million following UGL’s 2011 purchase of DTZ, an insolvent property company of which he was a director.

Leung, who received the money after he became chief executive in 2012, agreed in the deal not to form or join a rival firm and to help promote the company, but he did not declare the fee to his cabinet, the Executive Council.

A joint statement by 22 pan-democratic lawmakers had put pressure on Chow to quit the panel, of which he was vice-chairman, to maintain the credibility of the investigation. They said Leung had “no right to interfere with the Legco panel’s discussion”.

Chow earlier refused to quit, saying he saw nothing wrong with communicating with Leung on the scope of the investigation.

The lawmaker admitted on Monday that the chief executive had approached him and commented on the paper. Leung said he had a “need and the right to raise my views with the committee”.

Additional reporting by Kimmy Chung