Pro-democracy camp lawmakers have criticised Chief Executive Leung Chun-ying’s defamation lawsuit against a lawmaker, saying the “Singaporean-style” case would create a chilling effect.

Pro-democracy accountancy sector lawmaker Kenneth Leung Kai-cheong is being sued for defamation by CY Leung over his comments about the HK$50 million payment the city’s leader received from Australian engineering firm UGL.

The chief executive threatened to sue him last week, and Kenneth Leung said his lawyers received the legal documents on Monday afternoon seeking damages and an injunction to stop him from making similar comments again.

Kenneth Leung
Kenneth Leung. screenshot.

“This is an unprecedented case – a chief executive filing a civil suit against an incumbent lawmaker,” Kenneth Leung said. “This is a very bad precedent.”

Kenneth Leung alleged last Wednesday on the sidelines of the Legislative Council chamber that the chief executive could still be under investigation by the Independent Commission Against Corruption, the Hong Kong Inland Revenue Department or even foreign tax departments.

His comments were made after 26 pro-democracy lawmakers wrote a letter to Beijing leader Yu Zhengsheng urging him to consider the UGL controversy before appointing Leung Chun-ying as a vice chairman of the Chinese People’s Political Consultative Conference. Kenneth Leung said that should Leung be appointed and something happen to him in the future, it may embarrass the central government.

The writ from Leung Chun-ying’s lawyers said Kenneth Leung’s comments were defamatory but did not explain how.

“I think this is a similar approach to Singapore,” Kenneth Leung said. The Singapore government often sues opposition lawmakers for defamation.

His comments were made ahead of a LegCo select committee meeting which was set to look into the UGL controversy last Friday.

Leung Chun-ying
Leung Chun-ying. Photo: GovHK.

“I still believe our legal system is fair and just. I will still complete my work with my heart in this UGL select committee,” he said, but stopped short of going into details.

In response to Leung’s comments, CY Leung said on Tuesday that he would pay for the litigation costs out of his own pocket.

The payment from Australian firm UGL was made in exchange for Leung’s agreement not to join rival companies within two years, after it bought London-listed firm DTZ. Leung was a director at DTZ before running for chief executive.

Parts of the payment were received during his tenure as Hong Kong’s leader. He did not declare the sums to the Executive Council and argued that it was unnecessary as it was a normal “non-compete and non-poaching” agreement.

‘Hong Kong is not Singapore’

Civic Party legal sector lawmaker Dennis Kwok said many in his sector have called him to offer legal assistance to Kenneth Leung.

“I want to tell Leung Chun-ying: Hong Kong is not Singapore,” he said. “If you dare, sue all of us here – we, the legal sector, will fight you to the end.”

Dennis Kwok Wing-hang
Dennis Kwok Wing-hang. File Photo: Stanley Leung/HKFP.

IT sector lawmaker Charles Mok said the UGL incident has been reported for a very long time but Leung only decided to take action now: “We can relate to the fact that there is a timing coincidence.”

“The problem is why someone’s actions can make lawmakers consider whether they can ask questions again, or so that the media or the public will question whether lawmakers will dare to ask questions,” Mok said.

Lawmaker Claudia Mo said there was “a lot of face” involved in Chinese politics: “Obviously our letter proved very embarrassing to CY Leung.”

Lam Cheuk-ting
Lam Cheuk-ting. Photo: HKFP/Catherine Lai.

Democratic Party lawmaker Lam Cheuk-ting, a former anti-graft agency investigator, said the lawmakers will not stop investigating the UGL case.

“I want to tell Leung Chun-ying or other officials, if anyone tries to use a defamation case to create a chilling effect, sorry, it is no use,” he said.

League of Social Democrats lawmaker “Long Hair” Leung Kwok-hung called Leung Chun-ying a “coward” for suing Kenneth Leung but not the Sing Pao newspaper, which has been carrying front-page criticism of him.

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.