Chief Executive Leung Chun-ying said on Tuesday that he was not involved in the surprise personnel changes at the Independent Commission Against Corruption (ICAC), a day after the corruption watchdog body held a press conference explaining its decision to remove Rebecca Li Bo-lan as acting Head of Operations.

“We’ve already issued a declaration immediately… I did not take part in the decision making process, and after the decision was made I was notified of it,” he told reporters.

Leung Chun-ying. Photo: GovHK screenshot.

When asked whether the incident was related to him being investigated by the ICAC in relation to a secret HK$50m payment from Australian firm UGL, Leung said that – according to established laws and mechanisms – neither the ICAC, the party concerned, nor third parties can comment on the situation.

At a press conference on Monday, ICAC Commissioner Simon Peh Yun-lu said that he alone made the decision to remove Li from her position, and no one else had interfered in the process. He also said that the reason Li was removed was that she did not meet the requirements of the position.

The press conference was held after the announcement that Li would be replaced by Ricky Yau Shu-chun prompted many to ask the corruption watchdog to explain the unusual staff shake-up to the public. The Democratic Party also raised questions over whether the decision was related to investigations into the Chief Executive’s HK$50m UGL payment controversy, which Li had been involved in.

File photo: HKFP, Tom Grundy.

‘Unsatisfactory’ and ‘unsound’

Former ICAC investigator and Democratic Party Chief Executive Lam Cheuk-ting said that the post of head of operations and deputy commissioner was a very important one, and he did not believe that Leung did not play any role in removing Li from the acting position, RTHK reported.

Lam also cited internal ICAC sources, saying that many employees were dissatisfied with the explanations given by Peh at an internal meeting. They called Peh’s reasons “unsatisfactory” and “unsound,” and said that Peh had admitted to them he had not discussed Li’s work performance with her for several months.

Legislative Council Panel on Security Chair and DAB member Ip Kwok-him said he agreed that Li performed very well in terms of criminal investigations, but the ICAC has its own mechanisms when it came to human resources matters and only the organisation itself had a clear picture of the situation. He also said that if Li believed that there had been injustice, she should bring up the matter herself.

Former ICAC Chief Investigator Stephen Char Shik-ngor said that the ICAC appointment mechanism had always been transparent and Peh should give an explanation as to what he had demanded of Li in terms of work requirements. He also said that she had taken up the position for a year and it was inappropriate to remove her from the post without pointing out areas she could have done better in, Ming Pao reported.

Karen is a journalist and writer covering politics and legal affairs in Hong Kong for HKFP. She has also written features on human rights, public space, regional legal developments, social and grassroots activism, and arts & culture. She is a BA and LLB graduate from the University of Hong Kong.