Chief Secretary Carrie Lam Cheng Yuet-ngor has dismissed claims that the anti-graft agency was investigating a payment from Australian company UGL to Chief Executive Leung Chun-ying, saying they are “only speculative or even misleading statements.”

Lam Cheuk-ting, a Democratic Party lawmaker and a former investigator of the Independent Commission Against Corruption (ICAC), raised the motion on Wednesday to form a select committee under LegCo’s Powers and Privileges Ordinance to investigate the staff shake-up at the agency and find out whether Leung was involved.

According to Lam Cheuk-ting, sources in the agency told him that it was investigating the payment, but the Chief Executive’s Office has refused for a year to give up the information requested. Resignations ensued at the agency after the appointment of a top ICAC official Rebecca Li Bo-lan was cancelled. According to Lam, Li was investigating the case.

Carrie Lam. Photo: Chantal Yuen/HKFP.

In response, Carrie Lam said the government opposed the motion and rejected the claim that the ICAC was investigating the Chief Executive and the UGL case.

“I am afraid these are only speculative or even misleading statements,” she said. “The ICAC has never said publicly that this incident was under investigation.”

Lam added that she asked the agency again when preparing responses for the motion: “I can confirm I did not receive information that the ICAC is conducting this investigation.”

She said she regretted that Lam raised the issue again at the Legislative Council, as she already responded to the issue three times at the Council. She cited ICAC Commissioner Simon Peh as saying that the decision to cancel Li’s acting appointment as Head of Operations was a personnel arrangement on the basis of Li’s ability, and Leung was not involved.

However, Civic Party lawmaker Claudia Mo Man-ching said that during a recent off-the-record meeting with the ICAC, the agency did not deny that an investigation into the UGL payment was being conducted.

Lai Sai-hung, a Neo Democrats district councillor, also told the i-Cable news channel that the ICAC had arranged for him to make a statement after he filed a complain over the UGL incident.

Post-service agreement

Australian newspaper The Age revealed two years ago that Leung Chun-ying had received a payment of over GB£4 million from UGL in exchange for agreeing to not join rival firms within two years. They signed the agreement in December 2011, when Leung was running for Hong Kong’s top job.

Leung previously stated that the payment was a normal post-service agreement, and that there was no need to declare it to the Executive Council.

In July, ICAC commissioner Peh cancelled the acting appointment of Rebecca Li Bo-lan as the Head of Operations. Li subsequently resigned. After Li’s resignation, Principal Investigator Dale Ko and Chief Forensic Accountant Tang Shuk-nei also resigned.

Rebecca Li (top) and Ricky Yau (down). File Photo: GovHK/Apple Daily.

At the end of July, Acting Head of Operations Ricky Yau Shu-chun withdrew his request to terminate his contract about three hours after his departure was made public.

Questions were raised about whether the decision was related to investigations into the Chief Executive’s HK$50m UGL payment, which Li had been investigating, according to Lam.

The Council previously formed a select committee on Leung Chun-ying’s HK$50 million payment from Australian company UGL by a standing petition, but the power of the committee is limited as it is not covered by LegCo’s Powers and Privileges Ordinance. It does not have legal power to compel government officials to give statements and evidence.

The Council continued with the debate on the motion on Thursday.

Kris Cheng

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.