Complaints against two pan-democrat camp lawmakers who failed to disclose donations totalling HK$2 million from media tycoon Jimmy Lai Chee-ying has been found to be unsubstantiated by a Legislative Council committee.

The Committee on Members’ Interests voted by 4-3 on both the cases of Lee Cheuk-yan of the Labour Party and “Long Hair” Leung Kwok-hung of the League of Social Democrats, in favour of the two lawmakers. The committee found that neither had broken any rules of procedure in accepting the sum.

The votes were originally tied by 3-3 between three pro-Beijing and three pan-democrat camp lawmakers but – as committee chairman – Ip Kwok-him was obligated to vote against the complaint.

From left, Leung Kwok-hung, Jimmy Lai and Lee Cheuk-yan.
From left, Leung Kwok-hung, Jimmy Lai and Lee Cheuk-yan. File and Leung Kwok-hung.

The committee ruled that Lee and Leung, who received HK$1.5 million and HK$500,000 from Lai respectively, accepted the sums on behalf of their parties, rather than as lawmakers in their personal capacities. Thus they need not have declared the donations.

The probe began after the committee received 15 complaints from the public, and a complaint jointly lodged by five Federation of Trade Unions lawmakers in July and August 2014. The complaints referred to a number of news reports which revealed that Lai had deposited money to Lee and Leung’s bank accounts.

Lee received donations of HK$500,000 in October 2013 and HK$1 million in July 2014 from Lai. Leung received donations of HK$500,000 in October 2013 from Lai. Lai put the names of Lee and Leung, rather than their parties, on the bank cashier orders as the recipients.

Ip Kwok-him.
Ip Kwok-him. Photo: Oriental Daily screen capture.

‘Completely no idea’

In the report published by the committee, Lai said that the donations were handled by his assistant Mark Simon and that he “had completely no idea” why the recipients were the lawmakers, instead of the parties.

Simon was not invited to testify at the committee. A vote on whether to hear from him was also tied 3-3 and chairman Ip Kwok-him, was again obliged to vote against the motion, according to committee rules.

Lee said that the first donation was for the Labour Party to fund a new social enterprise, and formed part of several regular donations from Jimmy Lai. Lai told the committee that the increase in the amount of the second donation in 2014 was because he realised the Labour Party had gained more seats in the Legislative Council.

No personal gain

Lee kept the first HK$500,000 donations in personal accounts for eight months before transferring to his party’s account in July 2014. Lee said that he did not make any personal gain, such as from investments, during the period.

The committee said that there was no evidence showing that Lee had eventually transferred the interest income accrued from the two donations during the period to the his party’s account. However, the Labour Party’s Cyd Ho Sau-lan, said that she believed the bank interest during the period was only a few dozen Hong Kong dollars.

Leung Kwok-hung said the donation he received was meant for his party, and was used to cover part of the legal costs of a party member’s court case.

Emily Lau.
Emily Lau. Photo: Oriental Daily screen capture.

Adequate monitor

Emily Lau, deputy chairman of the committee, said that the current declaration system was “quite adequate.” She added that LegCo had debated many times whether it should investigate member misconduct.

“I myself am in favour of having a code of conduct, or having some third party to investigate, maybe a retired judge or something, but most of the members of the Council have disagreed,” Lau said. “So we are stuck.”

Jimmy Lai Chee-ying founded Next Media Limited, which changed its name to Next Digital Limited in July. It publishes Apple Daily and Next Magazine among other titles.

Kris Cheng is a Hong Kong journalist with an interest in local politics. His work has been featured in Washington Post, Public Radio International, Hong Kong Economic Times and others. He has a BSSc in Sociology from the Chinese University of Hong Kong. Kris is HKFP's Editorial Director.