The new Secretary for Justice Teresa Cheng has apologised for “any inconvenience” caused by alleged unauthorised building works at her house in Tai Lam, Tuen Mun.

The new justice chief, who took office on Saturday, had to issue a short statement at noon following front page reports in the Ming Pao and Apple Daily newspapers.

On Friday, Ming Pao reporters asked Cheng about a suspected additional 400 square feet basement – stairs to which could be seen from the ground floor – after her appointment was first announced. But Cheng said she did not know what the reporters were talking about and needed time to respond. She then tried to evade journalists as her assistant called security.

Teresa Cheng taking oath in the presence of Carrie Lam. Photo: GovHK.

The newspaper said that its reporters had inspected the house next to Cheng’s – which shared the same design plan – and confirmed that the neighbouring property had an unauthorised basement. It said it sent enquiries to the Buildings Department on December 27 last year but had not received a response.

Apple Daily, meanwhile, spotted a suspected additional room on the roof, a suspected additional balcony on the ground floor, and two suspected additional small ponds on the ground floor.

Cheng said in the statement that she received a notice from the Buildings Department on Friday requesting entry to her property for investigation.

Unauthorised structure at Teresa Cheng’s house.

“For this, I immediately commissioned a professional authorised person to conduct an inspection. I have also reported it to the Chief Executive and undertook to rectify the situation as soon as possible if any unauthorised building works are identified,” she said.

“I deeply apologise for any inconvenience caused by the incident.”

A spokesman of the Chief Executive’s Office said Cheng reported to Carrie Lam on Friday afternoon.

“The Secretary for Justice has undertaken to fully assist in the Buildings Department’s investigation and if the allegation is true, make rectifications as soon as possible. The Chief Executive has advised the Secretary for Justice to give an open account as soon as possible to allay public concern.”

A spokesperson for the Buildings Department said it received media enquires in late December. However, as officers arrived at the house on Friday, they were unable to enter to conduct an inspection. The officers left a notice saying they will apply for a court order and hope for assistance from the owner or the occupant.

The department said enforcement of the law will not be affected by the status of the person in the case.

Cheng bought the house in the name of a company for HK$26 million in 2008. It had a 1,400 square feet saleable area, with a garden, roof and parking space.

Lam Cheuk-ting. File Photo: In-Media.

Democratic Party lawmaker Lam Cheuk-ting said he has written to the Director of Buildings to urge an investigation.

He urged Lam to order all Executive Council members to review whether their properties contained unauthorised building works so any issues could be handled as soon as possible.

He said Cheng should fix any unauthorised works should they be confirmed, and bear responsibility.

Unauthorised structure at Leung Chun-ying’s house. File

Unauthorised building works have been a serious issue among top politicians in Hong Kong. During the 2012 chief executive race, Henry Tang was embroiled in scandal when his Kowloon Tong house was found to have an unauthorised basement. It was filled and sealed after the incident.

His rival Leung Chun-ying was also found to have six unauthorised structures at his house on the Peak including a basement. The unauthorised structures were removed and the basement was also filled in and sealed.

Kris Cheng

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.