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Hong Kong justice minister ‘hiding from legislature’ over illegal structures scandal

Lawmakers say Teresa Cheng is avoiding them over modifications to her luxury home, and they plan to table motion summoning her to testify

PUBLISHED : Wednesday, 17 January, 2018, 9:54pm
UPDATED : Wednesday, 17 January, 2018, 10:49pm

Hong Kong’s pro-democracy lawmakers plan to summon the city’s beleaguered justice secretary to the legislature to testify over the illegal structures found at her luxury New Territories home.

They accused Teresa Cheng Yeuk-wah of hiding from the Legislative Council on Wednesday and questioned her suitability for the job in light of the discovery of 10 illegal additions to her HK$26 million three-storey property and the home of her husband next door.

The structures included two 538 sq ft basements and a rooftop modification which Cheng claimed she had been “too busy” to take note of after she moved into the Tuen Mun house in 2008. The illegal structures were already there when she bought the property that year, she said. She has refused to resign over the controversy.

Charles Mok, convenor of the legislature’s pro-democracy bloc of politicians, said they had on Monday filed a motion under Article 73 of the Basic Law, Hong Kong’s mini-constitution, to summon Cheng to testify and provide documents related to the scandal, including on the sale of the property.

The article states that Legco can raise questions on the work of the government and summon persons concerned to testify or give evidence when exercising its powers and functions.

“Cheng has been avoiding the legislature over the past two weeks ... even concerning regular business,” Mok said. “The saga has deepened and Legco has a responsibility to request the official come forward.”

Amid Teresa Cheng’s illegal structures scandal, Hong Kong faces a growing crisis of confidence

Mok was referring to Cheng’s conspicuous absence from Wednesday’s Legco meeting, which she had been expected to attend to answer a question raised by pan-democrat legislator Tanya Chan on the legal basis for a contentious plan for a joint border checkpoint with mainland China for a high-speed rail link to Guangzhou. The proposal, which won the approval of China’s top legislative body last month, would allow mainland Chinese laws to be enforced in part of Hong Kong’s West Kowloon rail terminal, marking the first time national laws would be in place on Hong Kong soil.

But to the surprise of lawmakers, only transport and housing chief Frank Chan Fan showed up to the meeting, and he was slammed by Chan for “knowing nothing about the law”.

Passage of the motion summoning Cheng would require majority support from Legco members representing both its geographical and functional constituencies, which means it could be voted down if pan-democrats failed to secure support from some pro-establishment lawmakers.

Wu Chi-wai, chairman of the Democratic Party, the city’s largest opposition party, said the pro-establishment camp should back the motion as it would be an opportunity for Cheng to regain credibility she had lost over the structures scandal.

Hong Kong justice chief admits lack of political sensitivity but refuses to resign over illegal structures scandal

Pro-government legislator Priscilla Leung Mei-fun, chairwoman of the Legco panel on administration of justice and legal services, said Cheng had promised to attend a regular panel meeting on February 26.

Leung said her camp had yet to discuss whether to back the pan-democrats’ motion, but she argued the panel meeting would be a better platform for Cheng to address lawmakers’ concerns.

A spokesman for the Department of Justice said the government would “suitably deal with the summons, if any”.