New Secretary for Justice Teresa Cheng has told lawmakers that she does not accept that she is a person with no integrity.

The secretary, embroiled in an ongoing scandal over illegal structures at her properties, attended a regular question and answer session at the Legislative Council on Wednesday. Lawmakers used a question about the justice chief’s role in criminal prosecutions to grill her about the controversy.

Democratic Party lawmaker Roy Kwong said the basements in her and her husband’s houses had a wine cellar and a private cinema, according to reports. “How did you not notice your illegal structures… is your integrity almost zero?” he asked. “I want to ask you – do you think you should continue as justice chief?”

Teresa Cheng. Photo: Citizen News.

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.

Civic Party lawmaker Kwok Ka-ki also said “no-one in Hong Kong believes you are a honest person” and questioned whether she should be in charge of criminal prosecutions, and whether she should remain on as justice secretary.

“I do not accept that I am a person with no integrity,” Cheng said. “An individual cannot shift the whole system.”

People Power lawmaker Ray Chan also asked Cheng if she should be suspended and resign if she was prosecuted. Cheng said it will depend on what kind of prosecution it is, and said she can carry on as justice chief if it was unrelated to her work.

Cheng said she has authorised the Department of Justice’s Law Officer (Civil Law) and the Director of Public Prosecutions to handle her case to avoid conflicts of interest.

‘Difficult to understand’

Two other questions related to the illegal structure scandal were also raised at the session. During the meeting, pro-Beijing lawmaker Starry Lee said the row had been a “non-stop political bomb.”

Pro-democracy lawmakers challenging Teresa Cheng. Photo: Citizen News.

“It is very hard to understand why the secretary did not check and handle her illegal structures before taking the appointment,” she said. “It is also very hard to understand why the government’s integrity check did not uncover the illegal structures.”

However, Secretary for Constitutional and Mainland Affairs Patrick Nip refused to reveal details of top officials’ pre-appointment integrity checks, which are conducted by the police. He would not comment as to whether Cheng was asked if her properties had illegal structures.

Cheng to attend legislative panel

Cheng refused to attend a Panel on Administration of Justice and Legal Services meeting this Monday, claiming that she did not have enough time to prepare – despite attending a radio show the day before.

On the sidelines of the LegCo chamber, Cheng said: “I understand that the Legislative Council hopes to arrange an earlier report to the panel.”

She said she would be free later this week and early next week, and she will make a presentation of her work and answer relevant questions at the panel.

Teresa Cheng surrounded by security guards and media as she left the Legislative Council. Photo: HKFP.

She was surrounded by reporters during a media scrum as she exited the legislative building, but did not answer any questions.

Civic Party lawmaker Dennis Kwok, vice-chair of the panel, said he believed a two-hour session would be enough if Cheng was honest during proceedings.

Pro-establishment lawmaker Michael Tien of the group Roundtable said he was happy that Cheng took his advice to come to legislature.

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.