Chief Executive Carrie Lam Cheng Yuet-ngor said she hopes lawmakers and the general public will look at the controversy involving newly appointed Secretary for Justice Teresa Cheng Yeuk-wah with an attitude of tolerance, but it looks like the issue will not end anytime soon.
In her first Q&A session this year with members of the Legislative Council on Thursday, Lam was put to task by pan-democrats about her justice minister’s “intentional concealment” of the illegal structures in her house, accusing the cabinet official of “lack of integrity”, the Hong Kong Economic Journal reports.
The Buildings Department (BD) has confirmed that illegal structures were found in Cheng’s House No. 4 at Villa De Mer complex in Tuen Mun as well as in an adjoining house owned by her husband Otto Poon Lok-to, former president of the Hong Kong Institute of Engineers, but both insisted they had no knowledge of having violated the Buildings Ordinance.
Lam told lawmakers the public may find Cheng’s explanations for her negligence – “can’t remember”, “too busy”, “not vigilant and not politically sensitive enough” – hard to accept.
The Hong Kong leader said she could relate to the public’s attitude, but she still hopes people can be more forgiving as the policy regarding unauthorized building works has been changing since 2008, when Cheng bought her house.
Democratic Party lawmaker Roy Kwong Chun-yu accused Cheng of trying to use lies to cover lies since the saga was exposed by media last Saturday.
He asked how a person whose conduct is incorrect can discipline others, and demanded that Cheng reveal all the facts and details about the home saga to Legco.
Lam said Cheng has reported the matter to her and promised to follow up on the matter according to the requirements of the BD as soon as possible.
The chief executive also said it is wrong to accuse Cheng of knowing that she would lead the Department of Justice more than half a year ago.
Asked if Cheng really knew nothing about the illegal structures in her house, Lam said it is her belief that the justice chief has never intended to conceal anything.
Lam also stressed that she would not tolerate her subordinates’ lying to her or the public because it is a matter of integrity.
Civic Party lawmaker Tanya Chan presented the transaction contract and bank loan documents pertaining to Cheng’s house, and said she suspected Cheng might have obtained the loan through fraud since the illegal structures were not specified in them.
Such an act is a violation under Clause 18 of the Theft Ordinance, which is about obtaining pecuniary advantage by deception, Chan noted.
Lam said whether Cheng had broken the law should not be decided by her or anyone but be based on evidence and handled by the Buildings Department and investigative agencies.
When the lawmakers, both pan-democratic and pro-establishment, demanded Cheng’s explanations in person, Lam said she would talk to her to appear before them.
Meanwhile, Labour Party chairman Steven Kwok Wing-kin and several others jointly filed a report to the Wan Chai police headquarters on Thursday, accusing Cheng of making false statements and using a false instrument. The New People’s Party would also make a similar move on Friday.
The Lands Department said its staff inspected Cheng’s and her husband’s houses on Thursday and promised to take action if any breach of lease conditions is confirmed.
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