20 September 2019
Among the stories that Ernest Chi (inset) and his team broke was the one on 'fake transactions' at the 39 Conduit Road luxury housing project. Photos: HKEJ, Facebook
Among the stories that Ernest Chi (inset) and his team broke was the one on 'fake transactions' at the 39 Conduit Road luxury housing project. Photos: HKEJ, Facebook

Farewell, Ernest Chi, the human lie-detector

An award-winning investigative journalist who is regarded by many senior Hong Kong government officials as a “human lie-detector” is set to give up his job at a local newspaper next month.

Ernest Chi Pan-year, executive deputy chief editor of Ming Pao Daily, will be leaving his position in June after a 16-year stint at the paper that saw the lid being broken on several impactful stories, including those related to illegal structures at the homes of Henry Tang Ying-yen and Leung Chun-ying.

From April 2011, Chi has led an investigative team that specialized in uncovering the lesser known side of the political and financial heavyweights.

Last year, his team worked with the International Consortium of Investigative Journalists to report hidden assets of top Chinese officials and several members of the National People’s Congress.

Among the stories that Chi and his team broke was the one on “fake transactions” at a luxury residential property project of Henderson Land. An investigation revealed that several sales transactions which the developer had claimed at its 39 Conduit Road tower were never completed.

The revelations, which led to suspicions that the company was trying to jack up prices by inflating the demand, prompted authorities to impose new rules with regard to housing sales.

But what actually made Chi famous was the illegal home structure series during the chief executive election season in 2012. A string of articles exposed how Tang, who was one of the contenders for the city’s top job, built a huge illegal basement in his Kowloon Tong home.

Tang eventually lost out to Leung Chun-ying in the battle to become Hong Kong’s chief executive.

After Leung won, Chi reported that the new leader also had illegal structures at his Peak home. The expose raised questions about Leung’s integrity and dented his credibility, a blow which he is yet to recover from.

Ironically, Chi and Leung are said to be distant relatives, though they have seldom dealt with each other professionally.

But the journalist is a well-known name among government officials and some tycoons, as they fear that his calls usually mean the kiss of the death.

Chi’s passion, focus and persistence have won him and his team major awards from the Newspaper Society of Hong Kong and the Society of Publishers in Asia (SOPA), and helped Ming Pao build a reputation for high-quality investigative journalism.

Early this year, Chi got promoted and was given additional responsibility of overseeing and a new website, a job that he enormously enjoyed.

Chi, who started in the finance desk in the Hong Kong Economic Journal where I had the privilege to work with him 20 years ago, says he is currently off duty and contemplating a new challenge.

Take a good rest, pal! I wish you all the best.

The mighty and powerful may be thinking that they can breathe easy now, but I am sure you will return to the stage soon and continue to keep everyone on their toes.

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EJ Insight writer