Justice Secretary Teresa Cheng Yeuk-wah on Wednesday defended the government’s move to not press charges against former chief executive Leung Chun-ying in relation to his controversial dealings with an Australian firm several years ago.
Returning to Hong Kong after a 11-day holiday trip, Cheng told a waiting media at the airport that her department “made an informed and professional decision” on the case pertaining to Leung.
Grilled by reporters as to why the Department of Justice (DoJ) decided not to take any further action against Leung as regards his undeclared acceptance of HK$50 million from Australian engineering firm UGL, Cheng stressed that any decision to lay charges or skip prosecution depends on the merits of the case and the evidence gathered.
The DoJ makes prosecutorial decisions in accordance with evidence and the law, and acts unbiased and fearless when handling any incident, said Cheng, who stressed the social status or political background of the person involved would not affect such decisions.
“The Department of Justice has made an informed and professional decision that what has been and can be told to the public has already been set out in our press release on December 12. There is nothing further to add from a professional legal angle,” she said.
“The Department of Justice is only dealing with legal issues. Political issues have nothing to do with us,” Cheng said, according to the Hong Kong Economic Journal.
Asked why the DoJ did not follow past convention in seeking an independent legal opinion in cases involving senior officials, Cheng questioned what the point of this would be since the department found no obvious bias or any conflict of interest in the case.
She also claimed that by not throwing the ball into the court of independent legal advice, the department has shown that it was taking responsibility for its decision.
The DoJ, according to Article 63 of the Basic Law, has a constitutional responsibility to handle prosecutorial decisions, the justice chief pointed out.
Cheng noted that the policy of the DoJ when dealing with prosecutorial decisions has been to make the decision within the department itself, and that outside counsel is engaged only when a case involves a member of the department.
In other remarks, the official added that she “cannot comment on any specific case, in particular any ones that are now under judicial review or other judicial processes.”
Announcing its decision two weeks ago, the DoJ pointed out that the Independent Commission Against Corruption (ICAC) had conducted a comprehensive investigation of the Leung-UGL case, and the investigation reports and relevant materials submitted by the agency led it to advise that there was insufficient evidence to prosecute Leung.
Leung, who served as Hong Kong’s chief executive for five years until end-June 2017, is currently a vice chairman of the National Committee of the Chinese People’s Political Consultative Conference, China’s top political advisory body.
Asked why she had gone on leave even as the DoJ was preparing to announce its controversial decision, Cheng replied “the leave that I have taken, which has been planned over a month ago, has nothing to do with the very spurious suggestion that I was avoiding the matter.”
The justice chief she is now considering whether to attend a meeting being held by the Legislative Council’s Panel on Administration of Justice and Legal Services next month to discuss the DoJ’s general prosecution principles.
After hearing Cheng’s remarks, senior counsel Philip Dykes, chairman of the Hong Kong Bar Association, said seeking independent legal advice would have been appropriate in relation to the Leung-UGL case, given a document submitted by the DoJ to Legco’s panel on administration of justice and legal services.
Executive Council member Ronny Tong Ka-wah urged authorities to provide more information as to how the decision was arrived at on the Leung case.
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