26 August 2019
As Teresa Cheng faces questions about illegal structures at her home, the issue has become one that involves the matter of integrity, says senior counsel Edward Chan (inset). Photos: HKEJ, Now TV screenshot
As Teresa Cheng faces questions about illegal structures at her home, the issue has become one that involves the matter of integrity, says senior counsel Edward Chan (inset). Photos: HKEJ, Now TV screenshot

Justice chief in a ‘very unfavorable’ situation: top lawyer

Hong Kong’s new justice secretary, Teresa Cheng Yeuk-wah, needs to reassure the public about her personal integrity following the controversy surrounding illegal structures at her home, a senior lawyer said.

Cheng is in a difficult spot right now, given the information that has surfaced in relation to her home, according to Edward Chan King-sang, former chairman of the Hong Kong Bar Association.

Chan told a Now TV program on Sunday that there had been many examples overseas where public figures were embroiled in some scandals and they ended up quitting their public posts that might even not be related to the scandals, the Hong Kong Economic Journal reports.

Cheng needs to take action that will convince people that she is still a trustworthy person, he said.

The comments came as the Buildings Department (BD) has confirmed that illegal structures were found in Cheng’s house at Villa De Mer complex in Tuen Mun, as well as in an adjoining home owned by her husband Otto Poon Lok-to, who is a former president of the Hong Kong Institute of Engineers.

Cheng and her husband both insisted they had no knowledge of having violated the Buildings Ordinance.

Chan pointed out that the incident, as it has developed, is now not only about whether there are unauthorized building works in the houses but also about whether Chen knowingly broke the law yet tried to make an excuse saying that she was merely not vigilant enough when buying the property.

The whole issue is now one pertaining to the matter of her personal integrity, the former bar association chief said.

People can be excused if they buy a house with illegal structures, but not if they fail to disclose their knowledge of such structures when applying to banks for mortgage loans, Chan said.

The remarks came after some media outlets looked into Cheng’s mortgage documents and assignment, drawn up when she bought her house in 2008, and found no reference to a basement in her house.

Cheng might have committed a fraud by providing untrue and misleading documents, according to Chan, who described Cheng as being in a very unfavorable situation.

Talking about another issue related to Cheng, Chan said Chief Executive Carrie Lam Cheng Yuet-ngor’s permission to Cheng that allows her to continue to handle six arbitration cases from her private practice is really not ideal.

Lam said she granted approval to Cheng to do some private work along with her ministerial duties for a while, to enable the justice chief to wrap up the assignments she took on prior to her appointment to the government post.

Soon after she was sworn into office on Jan. 6, Cheng found herself facing questions related to her home as well as her private work which raised concerns about potential conflict of interest.

Calling the house saga unfortunate, Executive Council member Laura Cha Shih May-lung said she believes Cheng will explain the matter without any reservation.

Cha added that she hopes the public can give the new justice chief sufficient space as she seeks to address the concerns.

In other comments, Cha noted that a public servant has to sacrifice a lot when it comes to personal privacy. Such situation will make it difficult for the government to find right people to fill vacancies, she said.

Lau Siu-kai, vice-president of the Chinese Association of Hong Kong & Macao Studies, cited a Beijing official he met recently as saying that the house saga was not foreseen, and that it will unavoidably raise disputes and add to the political turmoil in Hong Kong.

The official, according to Lau, said the Hong Kong government’s governance credibility and pursuit of administration excellence will not be harmed as long as it can handle the matter properly.

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