Secretary for Justice Teresa Cheng Yeuk-wah returned from her leave yesterday and wasted no time in trying to deal with the raging controversy surrounding her department’s decision to not press charges against former Hong Kong leader Leung Chun-ying over his alleged failure to make proper disclosures of payments he received from Australian firm UGL.
There is talk that one reason why Cheng arranged a media session at the Hong Kong airport and met reporters soon after her arrival in the city on Wednesday is because she had learnt that some media personnel had been camping outside her home to seek answers over the Leung-UGL case.
Moreover, the government had estimated that even if Cheng had managed to dodge media questions Wednesday, she could by no means remain tight-lipped when she is back to work at her office Thursday, hence her decision to explain the matter to the public immediately.
At the airport, Cheng reiterated before the media that the Department of Justice (DoJ) does not engage an outside counsel to provide advice on any case, unless the case involves a DoJ member.
Not seeking outside legal advice shows that the DoJ has a sense of responsibility, she said.
Cheng immediately came under fire for giving such an explanation, which has been described by some critics as “turning public common sense on its head”.
So did Cheng succeed in allaying public concerns about the issue? Well, judging from the various responses from society on Wednesday, at least the legal sector and pro-democracy lawmakers obviously don’t buy into her answer.
However, a source in the government is rallying to Cheng’s defense, arguing that there was no conflict of interest whatsoever, since Leung isn’t a DoJ official. The department is fully justified in not initiating prosecution against Leung, and there was no uncertainty where authorities should seek independent legal advice over the UGL case, the source said.
The government source also said both the British and Australian authorities were not seen taking any action regarding the UGL case. The ICAC Operations Review Committee chairman Benjamin Tang Kwok-bun also said ICAC officers had “left no stone unturned” in probing the case, and that his panel agreed the case needed no further investigation.
Given all that, it would have been totally unnecessary for the DoJ to seek independent legal advice on this matter just to prevent people from raising doubts about it, the source added.
As to whether Cheng is going to attend the special meeting of the Legislative Council’s Panel on Administration of Justice and Legal Services scheduled for late January, the justice chief said on Wednesday that the DoJ would seriously consider that.
According to a second government source, Cheng is “very likely” to attend the meeting.
This article appeared in the Hong Kong Economic Journal on Dec 27
Translation by Alan Lee
[Chinese version 中文版]
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