A top government adviser said she might have exchanged views with certain parties regarding the proposed appointment of Johannes Chan to a senior role in the University of Hong Kong (HKU).
However, Sophia Kao, a policy adviser to Chief Executive Leung Chun-ying, denied contacting any member of the university council about the matter, according to public broadcaster RTHK.
Kao and executive councilor Cheung Chi-kong were earlier reported by Apple Daily to have exerted pressure on the council to block Chan’s appointment as HKU pro vice chancellor.
The report directly linked Leung to the effort.
Kao said she could not remember the people she spoke with and did not know if they were from HKU.
She said she might have mentioned Chan’s case over lunch or tea, according to RTHK.
In a brief statement Thursday, the Chief Executive Office denied Leung or his government ever intervened in the council’s deliberations on Chan.
The statement followed claims by Apple Daily that Leung had personally called the council members.
A spokesman for HKU said neither council chairman Dr. Edward Leong Che-hung nor any member of the committee received any call from Leung regarding Chan.
He said the council will review the status of the three candidates on Feb. 24.
Council member Leonie Ki denied she disapproves of Chan’s appointment but agreed that associate law professor Benny Tai, a co-founder of the Occupy Central movement, should be sacked, according to Apple Daily.
Ki served as deputy director of Leung’s 2012 election campaign.
On Thursday, Civic Party lawmaker Dennis Kwok challenged Leung and his top aides to come forward and clarify whether they had interfered with the council’s proceedings.
Several lawmakers threatened to launch an investigation.
In a letter to the HKU administration, Democratic Party chief Emily Lau demanded a fact-finding inquiry.
HKU last held such an investigation in 2000 when a senior official in the Chief Executive Office under Tung Chee-hwa was accused of interfering with a public survey conducted by HKU’s Public Opinion Program.
Chan, an outspoken critic of the administration, was thrust into the public eye after two pro-Beijing newspapers accused him of causing the deterioration of HKU’s legal research during his time as dean of its law school.
He was also accused of coddling Tai and allowing him to organize a civil disobedience movement the government considers illegal.
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