The Buildings Department has accepted a plan to “carry out minor works” to demolish unauthorised building works at new Secretary for Justice Teresa Cheng’s Tuen Mun house.

The news came as Cheng disclosed that illegal structures were found at another property she owns. It also coincides with the release of a government declaration of interests form which showed she has six other properties in Hong Kong and mainland China.

In a statement, a spokesperson for the department said it has accepted a proposal by the Authorized Person appointed by Cheng to remove the rooftop structure, the horizontal extension on the ground floor and the glass canopy beside the ground floor car park.

Teresa Cheng
Teresa Cheng. Photo: Citizen News.

Other illegal structures to be removed – considered by the department to be relatively small – include supporting frames for air-conditioners, additional partitions, glass protective barriers, a garden deck, a reinforced concrete cabinet, small canopies, a supporting antenna frame and cover screens.

“Based on the work programme submitted by the Authorized Person, the above rectification works will take about two months to complete,” the spokesperson said.

It said the Authorized Person is required to provide more information regarding the demolition work in the basement of Cheng’s house, before work can begin with the department’s approval.

Regarding a doorway on the fencing between Cheng’s property and the neighbouring house – owned by her husband Otto Poon – the department said it did not contravene the Buildings Ordinance. However, it was informed that the Authorized Person would voluntarily rectify the fence in accordance with the approved plans.

Teresa Cheng Otto Poon
Houses belonging to Teresa Cheng (left) and Otto Poon (right).

The department said it had reviewed the aerial photos taken at different times by the Lands Department. The records indicate that the rooftop structure, the horizontal extension, the glass canopy of the house, and other relatively small illegal structures which could be identified in the aerial photos were built before July 2008. Thus, they existed before Cheng bought the house in September 2008.

The department said it currently has no evidence showing when the basement was constructed. It said it will investigate whether basements were a commonly added feature in other houses on this estate, or whether the basements were built into the properties in the first place. It will also look at whether any persons registered under the Buildings Ordinance were involved in the construction.

Cheng, who has degrees in engineering and law, sat on a Buildings Ordinance tribunal and co-wrote a book on construction law – said she failed to notice the structures because she was “very busy” when the house was purchased.

Calls to attend legislature

Cheng refused to attend a Legislative Council panel meeting on Monday – citing the need for more time to make preparations for upcoming work. But she agreed to attend the meeting next month and spoke on a Commercial Radio programme on Sunday.

Michael Tien
Michael Tien. Photo: LegCo.

Democratic Party lawmaker James To said Cheng cannot avoid going to the legislature to explain the incident.

“Recently, she chose to attend a radio programme, but chose not to come to the Legislative Council in the afternoon today – I believe she is contradicting herself,” he said on Monday. “If you can attend the radio programme, it means she had enough time to prepare.”

Lawmaker Michael Tien of the pro-establishment group Roundtable also said Cheng should host a meeting to answer questions from lawmakers and reporters.

“Now, I don’t know when a meeting will be scheduled – it may not be a good thing for her future. If she does not answer to the Legislative Council, she has to reply to the media,” Tien said.

Tien said Chief Executive Carrie Lam may not be able to find an appropriate successor if she gave Cheng up, but added that he “cannot help her” if Cheng is proven to be violating the law.

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.