The Independent Commission Against Corruption (ICAC) has dropped its investigation into Chief Executive-elect Carrie Lam’s involvement in the Hong Kong Palace Museum deal, according to lawmaker Claudia Mo.

Lam was responsible for the deal when she was chief secretary last year. The project sparked controversy as the deal did not go through any public consultation before it was announced. It is set to replace what would have been a performance venue at the West Kowloon Cultural District.

The museum will be constructed to display exhibits borrowed from the Beijing Palace Museum.

Carrie Lam
Carrie Lam at the announcement of the Hong Kong Palace Museum. File

In January, Mo alleged that Lam had committed misconduct in public office, by directly appointing architect Rocco Yim as the consultant for the HK$3.5 billion museum project, instead of hosting a public competition to pick architects – the usual practice. Mo said in March that the ICAC told her it would open a file and investigate the complaint.

Lam had admitted that she was the first government official to approach Yim last May, asking him to conduct a feasibility study as part of the project’s preliminary stage. Yim was paid HK$4.5 million for the study.

Case dropped

On Thursday, Mo said the ICAC called her to say the investigation has been dropped.

“[They said] they looked at the whole process and did not find any signs of misconduct in public office, or other issues such as underhand dealings,” she said.

Mo added the ICAC said the decision was given to an independent case review committee, and the committee accepted the decision.

Lam will take office as chief executive on July 1.

Carrie Lam Palace Museum
Carrie Lam (C) and members of the core group in preparation for the development of the Hong Kong Palace Museum. Photo: GovHK.

“Of course, some will say what a coincidence in timing this is – it seems – like a celebration for Lam who is ready to take office. But personally, I choose to believe in the ICAC,” Mo said.

Mo said that she had told Lam that the Palace Museum incident was handled very badly, and that Lam admitted that “it could be been handled better.”

Legal challenge

A group of activists filed a judicial review in January alleging that the West Kowloon Cultural District Authority violated the relevant ordinance, which requires public consultations to be held on the development or operation of its facilities.

The activists told HKFP last month that they have yet to receive a reply from the court.

The public consultation, which began only after the project was announced, was criticised by democrats as “fake.”

Following a memorandum signed last December, the Authority will sign an agreement of cooperation with the Beijing Palace Museum to settle details within six months. The deadline is this Friday.

Duncan Pescod, the director of the Authority, said on Wednesday that it may be delayed as the agreement was still under discussion. However, he insisted that there was not a lot of problems to resolve.

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.