16 September 2019
Simon Peh (left) insists he alone made the decision that caused Rebecca Li to resign and Leung Chun-ying had nothing to do with it. Photo:HKEJ
Simon Peh (left) insists he alone made the decision that caused Rebecca Li to resign and Leung Chun-ying had nothing to do with it. Photo:HKEJ

Rebecca Li saga: Why does this smell so fishy?

It should have put the matter to rest.

Instead, Leung Chun-ying’s denial that he had anything to do with the abrupt departure of Rebecca Li, the former No. 2 in the Independent Commission Against Corruption (ICAC), raised more questions and provided no answers.   

Also, he said the law prohibits the ICAC and anyone who is the subject of an inquiry by the anti-graft agency from disclosing details of an ongoing investigation.

It all seems to imply an investigation is continuing into secret payments Leung received from an Australian company after he became chief executive and that saying anything more about Li’s case would be unlawful. 

ICAC Commissioner Simon Peh gave no details about her exit, except that her performance was “not satisfactory”.

Interestingly, Li was head of a task force investigating Leung’s dealings with Australian engineering company UGL when she was removed as acting head of operations last week and replaced by Ricky Yau, formerly director of investigations for the private sector.  

There is no evidence directly linking Leung to Li’s demise but it’s not hard to imagine how he would benefit from a friendlier investigator if the UGL probe is still in progress.

After all, Leung wields enormous influence over the anti-graft agency as the sole appointing authority and Li was serving as operations chief in a temporary capacity.

Former ICAC deputy commissioner Daniel Li said it is easier to see Leung being involved in the affairs of the ICAC than not, adding it is his job.

The question here is whether Peh is a scapegoat after he took responsibility for what happened to his former deputy and cleared Leung of any involvement.

Leung became the subject of a corruption investigation after it emerged that he received HK$50 million (US$6.45 million) in confidential payments from UGL for the sale of his real estate business without declaring the money for tax purposes.

The payments were made after he became chief executive, although the deal was concluded before he came into office.

Leung has only himself to blame for bringing suspicion on himself.

Instead of suspending his authority over the ICAC or handing his duties to the appropriate body to avoid any conflict of interest, he let it stand.

Now there are reports that he leaned on Peh to make the call.

Peh’s decision angered other senior officials in the agency and resulted in the resignation of a principal investigator, according to reports.

A protracted and embarrassing investigation into potential misconduct in office is the last thing Leung needs when he is widely tipped to seek reelection next year.

For perspective, his political allies and some pro-establishment media have been painting Li as incompetent and unsuitable for the job.

Sing Tao News Corp.’s East Week framed the whole episode as a power struggle between two former senior ICAC chiefs.

But we know now that there’s more to it than meets the eye.

When Li was told she would not be confirmed to the position of operations chief and that she was being “demoted”, she opted to resign.

Peh merely said she will be “on final leave from July 18″.

Make of it what you will.

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EJ Insight writer