Liquor Licensing Board member Alan Lo has been accused of a conflict of interest over a licence granted to Rhoda, a restaurant owned by his wife Yenn Wong.

Both Lo and Wong are restauranteurs and co-own Duddell’s, an art space and high-end restaurant in Central. Lo is co-founder of Classified Group, which owns The Pawn and Classified, while Wong oversees JIA Group, which is behind Aberdeen Street Social, 208 Otto Duecento and Rhoda, among others.

The members on the board dining at Rhoda.

According to an Apple Daily report, Rhoda, which is located in Western District, opened June 2016 and applied for a liquor licence four months before it commenced business. It was approved at a closed-door meeting and the restaurant was granted a one-year licence.

However, the restaurant’s provisional restaurant licence expired in December and Rhoda failed to obtain an official licence, causing the liquor licence to become ineffective. The restaurant did not cease operations and was subsequently prosecuted and fined HK$30,000.

This year, the Liquor Licensing Board again granted a one-year licence to Rhoda following a closed-door meeting. Several members on the board, including chairman Stephen Yau, vice-chairman James Wong, and Lo were seen attending a gathering at the restaurant a month after the licence was granted, leading to questions over whether there was a conflict of interest.

alan lo rhoda
Alan Lo (Left) and Rhoda (Right).

The Food and Environmental Hygiene Department told Apple Daily that Lo was not in attendance when two closed-door meetings discussing Rhoda’s licence application took place, but refused to disclose meeting records. Lo had also made a declaration of interest with regards to his wife’s ownership of the eateries.

As he left a board meeting on Tuesday, Lo did not respond to questions over whether he would make official records of the meeting when the licence was granted public. He said that his secretariat will respond.

‘Very unfair’

In a statement sent to HKFP, vice-chairman of the Hong Kong Bar & Club Association Chin Chun-wing said the meeting records should be disclosed. He said that – unlike many restaurants in the Western District which face restrictions in that they could not sell alcohol past a certain hour – Rhoda was permitted to do so: “Many in the industry feel that this is very unfair and the Liquor Licencing Board should explain this.”

Board member Chris Ip, who was out of town and did not attend the restaurant gathering, said that since the board was responsible for granting all the liquor licences in Hong Kong, they would run into this problem regardless of what restaurant they visit. Hence, the members always pay the bill together, RTHK reported.

Ip also said that he did not recall the police mentioning at the meeting that Rhoda had been operating without a liquor licence, and added that the meeting records were not made public because they involved sensitive information.

Karen is a journalist and writer covering politics and legal affairs in Hong Kong for HKFP. She has also written features on human rights, public space, regional legal developments, social and grassroots activism, and arts & culture. She is a BA and LLB graduate from the University of Hong Kong.