An official connected to Beijing’s organ in Hong Kong was found to have purchased two flats at a housing project intended for local first-time buyers.
One Kai Tak was the only housing project delivered under Chief Executive Leung Chun-ying’s “Hong Kong Property for Hong Kong People” policy. Intended to provide homes for local first-time buyers, the initiative was criticised for its high prices.
Thirty people each bought two flats as first-time home buyers, including an official of the China Liaison Office, who avoided paying extra stamp duty on the second flat, Chinese-language newspaper Ming Pao reported on Tuesday.
It means that 30 people purchased 60 flats out of the 310 apartments available. The Lands Department told the newspaper that there was no regulations limiting the number of purchases.
Gui Lan, an associate counsel of the social work department at the office, bought two apartments on consecutive floors in January, totalling HK$14.5 million. She was not required to pay extra tax as she bought both flats as a new home buyer.
She listed 43 Village Road in Happy Valley as her residence in the contracts. The location is widely reported to be a residence for Liaison Office staff members.
Ming Pao reporters approached Gui on March 13 when she was leaving the Liaison Office in Sai Wan. She told the newspaper that she sold her flat in Beijing earlier and bought the two Hong Kong flats for her own use.
When reporters asked if she could sit down to answer questions, she said: “So what?”
She then asked reporters not to take videos as she did not give permission, and said the purchase was a matter of her privacy, before she left for a bus.
The reporters asked the Liaison Office for more details and received an anonymous fax on March 17 saying: “Miss Gui had worked at our Office, she has retired.”
The fax also said Gui was a Hong Kong permanent resident who moved to the city through a one-way permit years ago, therefore her home purchase was a first-time purchase in Hong Kong and in accordance with the “Hong Kong Property for Hong Kong People” policy.
Competing for social interests
Gui was reportedly working for the Liaison Office as early as 2011.
Records showed that she was a Hong Kong resident as early as 2004, when she was appointed an independent non-executive director of listed company New Times Energy Corporation.
Democratic Party lawmaker Andrew Wan Siu-kin, the vice-chairman of LegCo’s Panel on Housing, said Gui’s action was inappropriate.
“She was competing for interests with the Hong Kong people,” he said. “Even though she has permanent residency, this is a special case as she is a Chinese official… and she has not explained if she truly purchased the flats for her own use.”
Wan questioned if the Liaison Office was making investments using the loophole in the policy. He also said the incident showed the policy was a failure and Chief Executive-elect Carrie Lam should learn from the mistake.
Ex-officials turned Hongkongers
Gui is not the only Liaison Office official to become a Hong Kong permanent resident.
Jackson Wong Chun-ping, a Kwun Tong district councillor, was originally Huang Chun Ping – Huang being the Mandarin form of Wong – who worked at the Office as the deputy division chief of publicity and education division.
He was also chosen to be a member of the chief executive election committee last year and voted on Sunday.
Last Friday, Apple Daily reported that Chen Xiong Zhi, Deputy General Secretary of pro-Beijing party Federation of Trade Unions, only came to Hong Kong in 2006 as an official of the Office’s New Territories Department.
He joined the party in 2008 as a mainland affairs consultant and took on his current role in 2009.
Zhang Tiefu, a former chief of the Liaison Office’s social work department, was elected as a Hong Kong delegate of the National People’s Congress in 2012.