The head of the Independent Commission Against Corruption (ICAC) has written a rare newspaper column slamming a Democratic Party lawmaker for “misleading the public” about the recent staff shake-up at the agency, which was triggered after a top investigator had her acting appointment cancelled.

Commissioner Simon Peh Yun-lu’s letter to the editor was published by Chinese-language newspaper Ming Pao on Thursday. It came a day after the Legislative Council approved a motion to form a select committee to look into the shake-up. It was proposed by lawmaker Lam Cheuk-ting, a former investigator at the ICAC.

In the article, Peh accused Lam of “repeatedly making misleading statements in the media” about the incident: “The ICAC’s integrity and Hong Kong’s international reputation has been hurt, I feel very regretful.”

Lam Cheuk-ting (left) and Simon Peh (right).

Resignations ensued at the agency after the appointment of Rebecca Li Bo-lan – the ICAC’s head of operations – was cancelled.

According to Lam, Li was investigating a case relating to Chief Executive Leung Chun-ying’s acceptance of a HK$50 million payment from engineering corporation UGL, made in exchange for agreeing not to join rival firms within two years. They signed the agreement in December 2011, when Leung was running for Hong Kong’s top job.

Peh had said that he alone made the decision, that it was unrelated to Leung and that it was based on Li’s work performance.

He said there were two types of acting appointments – for administrative convenience or for potential promotion.

“The acting appointment of Ms Li was an arrangement without the implication of a potential promotion, and for administrative convenience – nothing was unclear,” Peh wrote.

He repeated the stance in the article saying the cancellation was not made under any pressure. Peh stressed that the ICAC’s investigations were monitored by a committee of people from different sectors, professions and backgrounds, and that intervention by an individuals was “impossible.”

Rebecca Li Bo-lan. Photo: ICAC/Apple Daily.

Probe may ‘harm’ investigations 

Peh, citing ICAC policies, said he would not admit, deny or comment on the investigation of individual cases, when responding to speeches Lam had made in Legislative Council meetings, which alleged that the staff shake-up was linked to the investigation of the UGL payment.

“But in principle, and not involving individual cases, if an investigation has not concluded, lawmakers making cases public in the Legislative Council may harm the investigation of law enforcement,” he wrote. “Lawmakers must consider carefully before investigating a case in the Legislative Council to maintain the integrity of the investigation of law enforcement. The honorable Mr Lam was an investigator of the ICAC – he should be fully aware of the relevant laws and situations.”

Lam, in response, said that instead of writing an article to criticise him, Peh should appear before the Legislative Council to explain the incident. He said he welcomes public debate any time at the Council should Peh question his words.

Lam added that Peh’s article was “repetitive and unconvincing,” and that ICAC staff members did not accept such an explanation, therefore resignations ensued and many officials boycotted an annual dinner.

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.