Hong Kong’s new justice secretary, Teresa Cheng Yeuk-wah, found herself in an embarrassing controversy soon after taking up the senior post, prompting her to offer an apology to the public.
As Cheng was sworn into office by Chief Executive Carrie Lam Cheng Yuet-ngor on Saturday, media reports surfaced of illegal structures at the new justice chief’s home, alleging violations of the city’s building code.
Local media reported that Teresa Cheng’s home in Tuen Mun was found to have multiple suspected unauthorized structures, including a basement and an extension of a rooftop glass house. A separate house owned by her husband in the same villa complex was suspected to have unauthorized structures as well.
Following the news reports, the justice secretary said she hasn’t made any changes to the property after buying it, suggesting that she was not aware of illegal structures when she purchased it.
However, she issued an apology, saying she could have been more alert in relation to her property, which is located at the Villa De Mer complex in Tuen Mun.
Cheng, who succeeded Rimsky Yuen Kwok-keung as the new Secretary for Justice, was found to have been living in an independent house comprising multiple illegal structures.
Soon after her swearing-in ceremony, Cheng issued a statement in which she revealed that she received a notice from the Buildings Department (BD) requesting entry to her property for investigation.
Apologizing for any inconvenience caused by the incident, Cheng claimed that she had reported it to the chief executive and promised to follow up on the matter according to the requirements of the BD as soon as possible, if any unauthorized building works are identified.
At a press conference later, Cheng told media that the structures of her house have never been changed in any way since she bought it in 2008, although she admitted she could have done better in being vigilant on the matter.
Cheng said she will not interfere in any investigations and that she will rectify any illegal structures as soon as possible, if building code violations are uncovered.
She added that she has notified the Department of Justice that she will not involve herself in any legal processes regarding the matter so as to avoid conflict of interest.
In response to media enquiries, a spokesman for the Chief Executive’s Office confirmed that Cheng did report the matter Friday afternoon to Lam.
Lam advised Chen to give a transparent account to the public as soon as possible to remove doubts among the people, the spokesman said, adding that Cheng promised to fully assist in the BD’s investigation and make rectifications as soon as possible if the allegations are true.
Chief Secretary Matthew Cheung Kin-chung called on the public to give Cheng more time and space to deal with the matter as the BD will follow up on it as quickly as it can.
In a statement on Saturday, the BD said it received a media enquiry at the end of December about suspected unauthorized building works at Houses 2, 3 and 4 of Villa De Mer 7. As the BD officers could not obtain arrangement of entry into the houses concerned from the staff of the property management office during on-site visits on Friday, notices were left at the scene.
It is inappropriate to comment on the cases at this stage, the department said, adding that if unauthorized building works are identified in a property, the property owner is required to make rectifications according to the law and its requirements.
Meanwhile, asked how she was related to the owner of the No. 3 house that was also suspected to have illegal structures and found interlinked to her house, Cheng revealed for the first time that the owner of the No. 3 house was her husband Otto Poon Lok-to, former president of the Hong Kong Institute of Engineers.
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