Chief Executive Leung Chun-ying has issued a second legal letter to Apple Daily in six months over reports in the paper relating to his alleged violation of anti-corruption laws.
The reports came after the conviction of former leader Donald Tsang for failing to make a declaration of interests. The articles on Sunday and Tuesday both said Leung did not declare that he received part of the HK$50 million payment from Australian Corporation UGL after he became the city’s leader.
Both the reports cited comments from barrister and former Independent Commission Against Corruption (ICAC) chief investigator Stephen Char Shik-ngor. Char questioned if the directors of DTZ – Leung’s former company – knew of the payment.
He also challenged if Leung, as Chief Executive, declared his interests in projects that the MTR Corporation was working on with UGL. If not, Char said, Leung may have committed offences under the Prevention of Bribery Ordinance and of misconduct in public office.
Leung’s office on Wednesday issued a statement criticising one of the reports. His lawyers then sent a legal letter, similar to the statement, to the paper a day after.
The letter said Leung formally resigned from the position of DTZ director on November 24, 2011.
It said Leung was not a director of DTZ when he signed the non-compete and non-poach agreement with UGL in early December 2011, and DTZ management was fully aware of the agreement, including the then Chairman Tim Melville-Ross. Leung was never a director of UGL and was never involved in any business decisions made between MTR Corporation Limited and UGL.
The letter also said the chief secretary had on behalf of the government clarified the issue at the Legislative Council at least four times in 2014, saying that there was no requirement for Leung to declare the agreement, and the agreement was signed after he resigned from the Executive Council and before he was elected.
In September last year, Leung sent a letter through his lawyers to Apple Daily on an editorial commenting on the UGL matter.
The new letter on Thursday said the two reports and the editorial seriously tarnished his reputation, demanded no more relevant accusations be published and a retraction statement approved by Leung. He reserved all rights to take further action.
Apple Daily Chief Editor Chan Pui-man said that the reports were made responding to the ruling of the Donald Tsang case, that the public was interested in how it would affect Leung’s UGL matter, and therefore the paper asked for comments from people familiar with related laws.
She said she welcomed any comments if there were any misinformation or different views, but it would harm press freedom and the core values of Hong Kong if officials frequently sent legal letters and threatened legal actions against media.
A select committee of the Legislative Council will discuss the UGL matter again next week.
She said the paper would continue to report on news of the ICAC and the Council following up with the UGL controversy.
Last year, the ICAC instigated a staff shakeup after a top official reportedly investigating the UGL matter was denied an expected promotion. She and several other top staff members resigned.
Leung previously sent a letter in 2013 to veteran commentator Joseph Lian Yi-zheng, claiming that a commentary piece he had written accused Leung of having links with triads and asking for the piece to be retracted.
The Hong Kong Journalists Association had previously said that Chief Executive Leung Chun-ying was “intentionally targeting the media.”