22 February 2019
Rebecca Li’s’s resignation as deputy commissioner of the Independent Commission Against Corruption shows Leung Chun-ying (third from right) may still be well supported by Beijing and stand a good chance of getting a second term. Photo: HKEJ
Rebecca Li’s’s resignation as deputy commissioner of the Independent Commission Against Corruption shows Leung Chun-ying (third from right) may still be well supported by Beijing and stand a good chance of getting a second term. Photo: HKEJ

The invisible hand behind Rebecca Li’s mysterious resignation

The abrupt resignation of Rebecca Li Bo-lan, the deputy commissioner of the Independent Commission Against Corruption (ICAC) and the acting head of the agency’s investigative unit, grabbed headlines, and its repercussions are still unfolding.

In theory, Li won’t be officially leaving the ICAC until after she finished her six-month vacation, but her resignation tendered last week was, in practice, effective immediately.

Quitting her job was perhaps the only thing she could have done to express her anger over her demotion and get back at her former employer, because under the existing Official Secrets Ordinance, it would be against the law for a high-ranking law enforcement official like her to publicly lash out at her former boss or spill her guts in front of the media.

Hong Kong people have been largely indifferent to Li’s resignation, and most of them perhaps do not think the event has anything to do with their lives whatsoever.

Nevertheless, if we look closer at the whole thing and connect all the dots, we may find that it has actually provided important clues about the odds of Leung Chun-ying’s re-election.

Very unfortunately, it has become quite apparent that Li’s resignation suggests that Leung has got Beijing’s blessing and stands a pretty good chance of getting his second term as chief executive.

Twenty-three years ago I rallied to the defense of Alex Tsui Ka-kit (Editor’s note: Tsui was the deputy chief of the investigative unit of the ICAC when he was sacked for unknown reasons in 1993) because I believed he was a man of integrity and principles who had the guts to tell the public the truth and pursue justice for both himself and society.

Whether or not Li has the same guts as her predecessor remains to be seen. Even though she might face prosecution or even death threats if she broke her silence and told the public the truth behind her resignation like Tsui did 23 years ago, I believe that as Hong Kong’s No. 1 anti-graft agent, she is definitely under moral obligation to tell us what is really happening inside the ICAC.

That said, I think she didn’t deserve her nickname “female Sherlock Holmes” at all if she chose to remain silent over her mysterious resignation.

It is not just about her own career, but also about the public’s right to know and procedural justice.

However, it appears the Democratic Party didn’t have the patience to wait for Li to speak up, and have taken it upon themselves to expose the secrets behind her sudden resignation.

Lam Cheuk-ting, a former investigator of the ICAC and Democratic Party candidate in the upcoming Legislative Council election, said that according to some “very reliable sources” at ICAC, the anti-graft agency had launched an investigation into CY Leung’s alleged receipt of HK$50 million from the Australian engineering firm UGL over the acquisition of his surveyor firm one year ago.

However, Leung has failed to cooperate and did not turn over the records and materials on that deal as the ICAC had requested.

Lam also said that since Li was in charge of the investigation into Leung’s UGL case, it was logical to infer that her recent demotion and her subsequent resignation could have something to do with the probe, and that some external force could have interfered in the process.

If Lam’s accusations are true, then it is clear that CY Leung has been interfering in the ICAC’s investigations on him since last year, and that he is so firmly in power that he has used his might to order Simon Peh, the commissioner of the ICAC, to remove Li.

Let’s not forget like all other chief SAR government officials, the power to appoint the ICAC commissioner rests with Beijing rather than CY Leung, and therefore it is Beijing, not the chief executive, to whom Simon Peh answers.

Hence, it would have been impossible for Leung to order Peh to remove Li without Beijing’s green light.

So if we put the pieces of the puzzle together, we can come to a conclusion that Leung is still very much in favor with Beijing, and his bosses would go to any lengths to help remove any obstacle that is standing in the way of his re-election as chief executive.

It doesn’t take Sherlock Holmes to figure out that the so-called “very reliable sources” is none other than Li herself.

She is among the very few people who know the details of Leung’s case, and she is the only one that is now out of the game. She has every reason to blow the whistle.

As far as the washed-up Democratic Party is concerned, Li’s resignation and her insider information just came in handy for them to boost their anything-but-promising election prospects.

This article appeared in the Hong Kong Economic Journal on July 12.

Translation by Alan Lee

[Chinese version 中文版]

– Contact us at [email protected]


HKEJ columnist

EJI Weekly Newsletter

Please click here to unsubscribe