The commissioner of Hong Kong’s anti-corruption watchdog has said that linking the replacement of the acting head of operations to Chief Executive Leung Chun-ying’s UGL payment controversy “is irresponsible rumour-mongering.” Simon Peh Yun-lu, made the comments in a letter sent to 23 pan-democratic lawmakers on Tuesday.

He said that spreading such rumours was “slandering his personal integrity” and hurting Hong Kong’s reputation, as well as public confidence, in the Independent Commission Against Corruption (ICAC). Peh also said that it was an “accusation that is very serious but without real evidence.”

Simon Peh. Photo: Screenshot via Stand News.

The UGL case refers to revelations by Fairfax media in October 2014 that Leung received HK$50 million in connection to a bid by UGL for DTZ – where Leung was a director. Leung has always denied any wrongdoing, arguing that the payment was for agreeing not to join or set up a competing company for two years, though he was also paid for being an occasional adviser to the new firm. He recently also sent a legal letter to Apple Daily, asking the newspaper to retract a column which “falsely, viciously, and maliciously accused” him of corruption over the payment.

See also: Head of corruption watchdog declines to meet pan-democrat lawmakers over staff changes

The commissioner said that the replacement of Rebecca Li Bo-lan as acting head of operations with Ricky Yau Shu-chun earlier this year followed “the government’s current rules and procedures,” and he was the only one making the decision, purely out of “considerations for human resources management.” It had nothing to do with any case that the ICAC is investigating, he said.

He also said that Li was told when she was appointed to the acting position that it was only for “executive convenience” and did not carry any expectation of promotion.

Li’s surprise replacement, and her subsequent departure from the ICAC was followed by the departure of two more ICAC staff, Principal Investigator Dale Ko, and Chief Forensic Accountant Tang Shuk-nei.

Rebecca Li Bo-lan. Photo: ICAC.

Lawmaker-elect Lam Cheuk-ting, who is a former ICAC investigator, said that Peh was “contradicting himself” in his letter, and said that since Li had not reached retirement age when she took the position for a long period, it shows that the ICAC was “considering her as someone for promotion.”

Lam also said that he had already submitted to the Legislative Council Secretariat the motion to use the legislature’s powers and privileges mechanism to investigate the cancellation of Li’s appointment and see whether it was connected to the UGL payment. However, he also said that under the split voting system between the geographical and functional constituencies, he was “not optimistic” that the motion would pass.

The current voting system requires the motion to pass separately in both geographical and functional constituencies, which means the motion can fail even if an overall majority of lawmakers vote in favour.

Chantal Yuen

Chantal Yuen is a Hong Kong journalist interested in issues dealing with religion and immigration. She majored in German and minored in Middle Eastern studies at Princeton University.