Protesters march in rain against move to drop corruption probe of former Hong Kong leader CY Leung
- Pan-democrats, who held the event, claim some 1,200 people showed up but police say the figure was 525
- Marchers take their demonstration to office of justice chief Teresa Cheng
Hundreds of demonstrators staged a rally in Hong Kong despite the miserable weather to protest against a decision by the city’s justice minister to clear former leader Leung Chun-ying of any wrongdoing over a HK$50 million (US$6.3 million) payment he received from an Australian firm.
The pan-democratic camp, which organised the event at Chater Garden in Central, claimed some 1,200 people attended, but police said only 525 people took part.
Organisers said the move by Secretary for Justice Teresa Cheng Yeuk-wah involved political consideration and marked the “sinking” of Hong Kong’s rule of law.
Addressing the crowds, Democratic Party lawmaker Andrew Wan Siu-kin said: “The justice secretary has departed from the usual practice of seeking independent legal advice in controversial cases. That is wrong and Teresa Cheng owes the public an explanation.”
Leung escaped legal action after a four-year investigation by the city’s anti-graft agency, the Independent Commission Against Corruption, into a HK$50 million payment he received from Australian engineering firm UGL while he was in office.
In a statement issued on December 12, the Department of Justice said “the decision not to prosecute is solely based on insufficiency of evidence”. Leung has not commented on the matter since.
Pressure has mounted on the department and Cheng, who is on leave until December 26, as lawmakers, lawyers and former investigators said she could have offered a more detailed explanation.
Critics said seeking external advice was the norm for cases involving high-ranking officials.
A department spokesman previously said the need for this depended on whether internal expertise was already available and whether there were possible perceptions of bias or conflicts of interest.
At the rally on Sunday, the Labour Party’s Cyd Ho Sau-lan, a former lawmaker, said: “The government has no problem dumping money into white elephant projects. Obtaining outside legal advice should not be as costly.”
She was referring to transport infrastructure and new town developments that were criticised as too expensive.
Led by a group of about 10 pan-democrats, the crowd marched from Chater Garden to Justice Place on Lower Albert Road, where Cheng’s office is located.
They chanted slogans, criticising Cheng for her decision and accusing her of failing to answer to the public.
Speaking to the press after the march, lawmaker Lam Cheuk-ting from the Democratic Party said: “The march is only our first step. We shall not let Teresa Cheng off so easily. We have discussed with our legal team and we might file a judicial review against her decision if she fails to give the public an acceptable explanation.
“We may also move a vote of no confidence against her.”
He said he was pleased with the turnout, which, according to him, reflected public discontent with how Leung’s case was handled.
One protester, a retiree who only gave her surname Cheng, questioned if Chief Executive Carrie Lam Cheng Yuet-ngor was involved in the decision. Leung was Lam’s predecessor and is now vice-chairman of the Chinese People’s Political Consultative Conference, China’s top political advisory body.
“Leung has to be held responsible. Lam fears prosecuting Leung because he is now a state leader. If the justice secretary is fair and has nothing to fear, she should have prosecuted Leung and let the court judge him,” the march participant said.
The controversy stemmed from a deal Leung struck with UGL after the firm’s purchase in 2011 of DTZ, a property services company once listed in Britain, of which he was a director. As part of the arrangement, Leung agreed not to form or join a rival firm and to help promote the company.
Leung received part of the payment after becoming Hong Kong’s chief executive in 2012. But he did not declare this during a meeting with his cabinet, the Executive Council.