Hong Kong lawmakers ousted in oath-taking row can keep their salaries if they return up to HK$310,000 of expenses
The quartet were originally told to stump up between HK$2.7 million and HK$3.1 million but the new claim amount is now a fraction of that
Four pro-democracy lawmakers ousted for taking their oaths of office in ways that Beijing later ruled unconstitutional will not have to pay back their full salaries – if they agree to return a smaller amount of expenses paid to them and items such as mobile phones and laptop computers.
Legislative Council president Andrew Leung Kwan-yuen announced on Wednesday that after months of internal discussion, the Legco Commission decided not to pursue claims for the full amounts ranging from HK$2.7 million (US$344,000) to HK$3.1 million.
Instead, the commission – which handles Legco’s administrative matters – decided to reach a settlement with conditions, with Nathan Law Kwun-chung, “Long Hair” Leung Kwok-hung, Lau Siu-lai and Edward Yiu Chung-yim.
Andrew Leung said the commission had considered various factors, including the likelihood of it recovering the full amount and the legal costs of doing so.
“According to the preliminary estimate, the legal cost might amount to over HK$10 million,” said Andrew Leung. “The commission agreed that the public money must be used prudently.”
The quartet are now required to return the advance of the operating funds and certain prepaid expenses – ranging from HK$190,000 to HK$310,000 each – alongside the capital items purchased, such as mobile phones and laptop computers.
“If any of the conditions mentioned above are not met, the commission will consider commencing legal actions to recover all the money paid to them,” Andrew Leung said.
The commission issued the four ex-lawmakers with repayment bills last November. These were backdated to their first day in office – October 1, 2016 – despite them carrying out their work for nine months before the High Court stripped them of their seats on July 14 last year.
But last month, the government said the bill could be written off by the legislature if it failed to recover the money.
Legco Commission member Dennis Kwok said the legal advice they sought had suggested the four ex-lawmakers had a strong defence in common law, and it would be unreasonable for the commission to demand a repay of their salaries.
“The Legco commission finds it unwise or a waste of taxpayers’ money to spend several millions or more than tens of millions of public money to demand a refund of these lawmakers’ salaries,” Kwok, who represents the legal sector, said.
Demand for ousted lawmakers to return payments is political persecution, and Hongkongers won’t stand for it
The disqualified lawmakers welcomed the decision which they said had “righted the wrong” but argued the Legco should pay severance payments and payment in lieu of notice for their former assistants.
“I think the decision by the commission ... is reasonable,” Law said.
“At the same time, I must point out that the staff of my office have lost their job under such abrupt suppression last July and the Legco should bear the payment in lieu of notice and the severance payments.”
Lau said the payments were basic labour rights and added that she and the others would discuss their next move with their legal team.
Separately, Andrew Leung said the commission had issued a warning letter to a lawmaker who had ignored the Legco secretariat’s advice and built a bigger-than-allowed stage in the protest zone outside the legislature complex on April 7.
It was understood the lawmaker was Civic Party’s Dr Kwok Ka-ki, who helped organise the rally to safeguard the city’s freedom of speech in light of the authorities’ attack against the remarks on independence for the city made by academic Benny Tai Yiu-ting last month.