The University of Hong Kong community has called upon its governing council to investigate a bribery scandal involving mainland student Printa Zhu Ke, who allegedly bought votes in his bid to serve on the HKU Council.
Zhu’s opponent, Michael Mo, reported the case to the HKU Council last week. After reviewing Mo’s complaint, the Council announced on Wednesday that Zhu was elected as the postgraduate student representative.
The Council did not explain its decision not to investigate Zhu, but a source told Ming Pao that the Council decided by a 9:7 vote to dismiss the complaint on the basis that the amount – totalling RMB80 – given out by Zhu was “immaterial.”
The source also said that most of the Council members who voted against Zhu were HKU members, while those who voted for Zhu were appointed from outside the school. Under Hong Kong law, the chief executive has the power to appoint one-third of HKU Council members.
The HKU Students’ Union, Academic Staff Association, and Alumni Concern Group issued a joint statement on Thursday, slamming the Council’s decision to dismiss the complaint without a full investigation for being “unreasonable and inappropriate.”
“Fairness and honesty are the core values of Hong Kong that should never be infringed in any election,” the statement said. “As the fortress defending such core values, the University should be devoted to nurturing students to commit to integrity, justice and truth.”
“The University should not tolerate any acts that disregard the electoral principles of fairness and honesty,” it said.
The groups started an open petition calling upon the Council to disclose the reasons for its decision, and to launch a formal enquiry into the bribery allegation. They also asked the Council to evaluate the election procedure.
Lawmaker and former anti-corruption commissioner Lam Cheuk-ting has also urged the HKU Council to investigate the allegation.
Zhu could not be reached for comment. He said earlier that his opponent had tried to gain publicity by stirring up sensational stories.
Virtual red packet
Last week, Mo received tipoffs from two students who gave him screenshots that allegedly showed Zhu sending out his campaign details and distributing virtual red packets containing money to his classmates via the messaging app WeChat.
In some screenshots, after Zhu posted his campaign poster and red packet in a group chat, several members told him that they had voted and one asked for the link to vote online.
Zhu responded that the money was to reimburse those who had helped with campaign promotion. He uploaded screenshots of his red packet account, which showed that the amounts transacted were all below RMB2.
Mo also reported the case to the Independent Commission Against Corruption last week. The anti-graft watchdog has dismissed the complaint on the basis that it does not have jurisdiction over the allegation.
Barrister Chris Ng of the Progressive Lawyers Group told HKFP earlier that Zhu may have a strong defense for two reasons: first, Hong Kong’s ordinances do not cover this type of alleged bribery. Second, there are common law cases in which a gift of insignificant value was considered not capable of “influencing” voters, thereby failing to establish the act of bribery.
However, Ng said that even if a conduct is permissible by law, it may not be morally acceptable. “Zhu was lucky this time, but this kind of behaviour should not be encouraged,” he said.
Ng gave the example of a mainland Chinese businessman who was jailed for six months in September after trying to bribe an HSBC employee with a bottle of perfume. The magistrate said the mainlander brought “undesirable culture” to Hong Kong, which must not be encouraged.
The governing council system in Hong Kong has for years been criticised for being susceptible to political influence due to the law which stipulates that the chief executive is the chancellor of ten universities and can appoint outside members to the councils.