Lawmaker Holden Chow has said he should have revealed earlier that he spoke to Chief Executive Leung Chun-ying about altering the scope of an investigation into Leung’s controversial UGL payout.
But the pro-Beijing lawmaker insisted that he “never concealed anything, broke any rules and laws” in the incident, and condemned “smearing” from pro-democracy lawmakers.
A LegCo committee investigating the HK$50 million payment Leung received from Australian firm UGL learned on Monday that Leung made suggestions to alter the scope of the investigation.
Chow, the vice-chair of the committee, made his response more than 24 hours after the incident was revealed, following an urgent caucus meeting of his party, the Democratic Alliance for the Betterment and Progress of Hong Kong, on Tuesday afternoon.
He apologised for the way he handled the incident. “I admit I had low political sensitiveness in handling the matter and created a negative public perception. I had inadequate experience as it was my first time joining a select committee,” he said.
“I should have mentioned earlier that I spoke to Mr. Leung about the contents of the document,” Chow said. A few days after he submitted the document to the LegCo secretariat in April, Chow said at a committee meeting that he authored the document himself.
Chow said Leung contacted him to give him his opinion on the document. Both Leung and Chow claimed that the document was “always public” and that anyone could make comments.
The Microsoft Word document sent by the secretariat to lawmakers showed Leung’s edits, though lawmakers would have to check it carefully to notice. Chow claimed he never concealed the changes.
“I read it, considered it and found it appropriate to submit to the committee for discussion,” he said. “I have never concealed anything, I have not broken any rules and laws.”
The Monday meeting was held behind closed doors. Following comments made by Leung, Chow also criticised pro-democracy lawmakers for leaking the contents of the meeting. “I am very disappointed about the situation.”
Chow said there was no conflict of interest and he did not receive any benefits from Leung. “Four pan-democratic lawmakers said I colluded [with Leung] – that’s smearing,” he said.
Chow, a lawyer, compared the situation to a court case, where the prosecution and the defense would meet to agree on basic facts: “There is no problem [in communicating] if the investigation is just.”
When pressed by reporters, Chow said: “Maybe I should have reminded [Leung] that it is fine to express his opinions, but he should do so through the committee.”
Chow did not rule out his resignation from the committee, saying he would not be reluctant to step down. The committee consists of 11 lawmakers, four of whom are from the pro-democracy camp.
‘Misleading the public’
Democratic Party lawmaker Lam Cheuk-ting accused Chow of misleading the public by claiming that he did not conceal anything.
“This is absolutely a lie – Leung Chun-ying wrote the whole document and Holden Chow submitted it to the committee without changing a word,” he said. “He is covering a lie with a lie – it is only making things worse.”
“In the future, every time he writes a document, I will have to ask him – are you representing yourself or Leung Chun-ying? This question will follow him forever – thus Holden Chow no longer has integrity as a lawmaker,” he said.
Lam also said lawmakers usually attend meetings with hard copies of documents, so Chow was not being completely honest about revealing the edit history.
Lawmaker Andrew Wan Siu-kin commented on the similarity of Leung and Chow’s responses: “I am not sure if they came up with them together.”
“He claimed we broke rules [by revealing meeting details] – this is obviously him trying to shift the focus,” he said.
The pan-democrats asked Chow to resign as a lawmaker and said that they are considering launching procedures to impeach both Leung and Chow.