Head of Legco legal affairs panel plays down calls for debate of government decision not to prosecute former Hong Kong chief executive Leung Chun-ying
- Priscilla Leung says Legco members are welcome to ask questions regarding the government’s prosecution policy but no debate is necessary
- Opposition lawmakers have strongly criticised Secretary for Justice Teresa Cheng for going on holiday and not arranging to explain the decision
The head of Hong Kong’s legislature’s legal affairs panel has poured cold water on calls from lawmakers to debate the government’s decision to clear former leader Leung Chun-ying of any wrongdoing over a payment he received from an Australian firm. The city’s justice chief has come under mounting pressure to explain her decision.
The panel chairwoman Priscilla Leung Mei-fun said she was not inclined to talk on individual cases but said members could discuss prosecution policy.
She said members of the panel had previously debated whether the government should hire an outside lawyer to give independent advice for cases.
“We discussed it in the past. It is not a necessary process. At that time, we felt the justice minister and officials of the Department of Justice should shoulder responsibility. You shouldn’t outsource it for every case.”
The city’s anti-graft agency last Wednesday announced that it would take no “further investigative action” over the case surrounding Leung after receiving legal advice from the Department of Justice. But the department was questioned for not seeking independent advice from lawyers outside the government.
Secretary for Justice Teresa Cheng Yeuk-wah is on leave and has remained silent, despite Chief Executive Carrie Lam Cheng Yuet-ngor saying she believed Cheng would be willing to respond to questions over the matter. Other politicians, including Executive Council convenor Bernard Chan have also said Cheng had the responsibility to explain the decision to the public.
On Wednesday, three pro-democracy lawmakers are set to file a request during a meeting of the Legislative Council’s Panel on Administration of Justice and Legal Services for inviting the Department of Justice to explain why it did not institute prosecution against Leung regarding the case at a special meeting.
As to whether to invite Cheng to the Legislative Council, it would depend on the consensus among panel members, Priscilla Leung said.
Leung also said she had previously promised to find a time to discuss prosecution policy when members filed similar requests.
She added she had also tried to contact Cheng but failed.
Cheng is expected to return to work on December 27.
Democratic Party lawmaker Lam Cheuk-ting said Cheng should have prepared well before taking her holiday break.
“This is unacceptable and very irresponsible. This is such a big prosecution decision. Shouldn’t you be prepared to explain it to the public? But she went on holiday,” he said.
“I think it’s a dereliction of duty.”
Lam added that, if the Department of Justice has sufficient legal grounds, it should seize the opportunity to give an explanation to the public.
When top officials are on leave, usually another official will take up an acting role.
But due to the special duties of the justice chief, when he or she is out of Hong Kong, a law officer, either the director of public prosecution or solicitor general would be tasked with attending Legco’s meetings.
The Independent Commission Against Corruption had been investigating the HK$50 million payment from UGL to former chief executive Leung Chun-ying since 2014. Leung was the city’s leader from July 2012 to June 2017.
The controversy stemmed from a deal Leung struck following UGL’s 2011 purchase of DTZ, a property services company once listed in Britain and of which he was a director. As part of the deal, he agreed not to form or join a rival firm and to help promote the company.
Leung received part of the sum after becoming chief executive in 2012. But he did not declare it during a meeting with his de facto cabinet, the Executive Council, sparking concerns of a possible conflict of interest.