Date
26 September 2018
Attending a Q&A session in the Legco on Wednesday and facing a volley of questions over the illegal housing structures scandal, Justice Secretary dismissed suggestions that she lacks integrity. Photo: HKEJ
Attending a Q&A session in the Legco on Wednesday and facing a volley of questions over the illegal housing structures scandal, Justice Secretary dismissed suggestions that she lacks integrity. Photo: HKEJ

Cheng grilled in Legco over house saga but no real answers

Secretary for Justice Teresa Cheng Yeuk-wah was on Wednesday grilled by lawmakers over the controversy surrounding illegal structures at her homes, a session during which she was once proclaimed her integrity but gave no substantial additional information.

Lawmakers posed several questions to the new justice chief, using an opportunity as she put in an appearance at the Legislative Council, but failed to get any real answers, the Hong Kong Economic Journal reports.

In her first Legco question and answer session since she took office on Jan. 6, Cheng became the target of several democrats, with one of them accusing her of intentionally breaking the law since she should have known that the houses she bought contained unauthorized building works, rather than claiming now that she had been too busy and unaware at the time of purchase.

Cheng did not give straight answers to the related questions, adopting the same strategy that she had been displaying since the house saga was exposed on the same day when she took office.

The justice chief owns four houses — one in Tuen Mun, two in Sha Tin and one in Hong Kong Island. Aside from the Tuen Mun house, in which the Buildings Department has confirmed the existence of illegal structures, the other three were also suspected to have similar problems.

In his questioning, Civic Party lawmaker Kwok Ka-ki said he doubts Cheng is suitable to be the top decision-maker of the Department of Justice (DOJ) since she knew the law but broke it, and can therefore be seen as having no integrity.

Cheng responded by saying: “I do not accept that I am a person with no integrity”.

With regard to the public’s confidence in the government’s prosecution work, it is not a matter of one person but a matter of the whole system, she said.

The system cannot be deviated by only one person, Cheng said, stressing prosecutions have to be based on the law and evidence.

Asked by Democratic Party lawmaker Lam Cheuk-ting whether she had been told by a lawyer or an estate agency about the illegal structures before she bought the Tuen Mun house, Cheng did not answer the question straight, merely saying that all of the related matters on her properties and her husband Otto Poon Lok-to’s company have been entrusted to law officer (civic law) and the director of public prosecutions for handling.

During the Q&A session, Cheng unexpectedly revealed that she will have time to attend a meeting of the Legco’s panel on administration of justice and legal services next Monday. She had said previously that she wouldn’t be able to do so until late February.

Dr. Priscilla Leung Mei-fun, who chairs the panel, said although the meeting will focus on several legislation issues, including the co-location plan for the Express Rail Link and the new national anthem law, she will still approve it if some of its members want to ask questions about the unauthorized building works in Cheng’s properties, in relation to her capability in her job, attitude and the influence of her house saga on her future work.

Meanwhile, a lawmaker questioned why the Buildings Department has not launched a criminal investigation against Cheng yet as it did in case of former chief secretary Henry Tang Ying-yen after illegal structures were found in his mansion.

Secretary for Development Michael Wong Wai-lun stressed that the department always treats cases of the kind impartially.

The department does not generally conduct criminal investigations regarding cases, he said, adding that decisions on prosecutions depend on evidence and the conclusions of the Department of Justice.

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