Hong Kong’s corruption watchdog the Independent Commission Against Corruption (ICAC) has appointed Ricky Yau Shu-chun as its top investigator, filling a post that has been left vacant for three years.

Yau has been serving as the agency’s Head of Operations – its top investigator – in an acting capacity since 2016. He was also appointed as the deputy commissioner, the agency’s number two post, on Monday.

Ricky Yau Shu-chun. File /HKFP.

Yau, 53, joined the ICAC in 1994 as an investigator. He became assistant director in 2007, and was appointed director of investigation in 2014.

“Under the leadership of Mr. Yau, I have every confidence the Operations Department will continue to uphold its professionalism and effectiveness in the fight against corruption,” said ICAC Commissioner Simon Peh Yun-lu in a statement.

Yau has served as acting operations chief since July 2016, when Peh made the controversial decision to remove Rebecca Li Bo-lan, who was then acting Head of Operations and widely respected within the ICAC. Yau was appointed as Li’s replacement, but he submitted his resignation ten days afterwards.

In a surprise turn, he then withdrew his resignation hours later, after “staff members of the Operations Department expressed profound wishes for him to remain in office and after having considered the overall interest of the Commission,” according to the ICAC.

From left: Simon Peh, Carrie Lam, Ricky Yau. Photo: GovHK.

At the time, lawmakers questioned whether the decision to remove Li was related to then-chief executive CY Leung’s HK$50m payment from Australian firm UGL, received while Leung was in office. Li was involved in the investigation.

Peh said that Li’s removal was “[his] own decision,” and Leung said he had no hand in the staff changes. Li’s removal triggered an exodus of senior ICAC officials and morale was reportedly low.

Pro-democracy lawmaker Lam Cheuk-ting earlier said that the continued lack of a Head of Operations would impede long-term planning and the effectiveness of the ICAC.

Lam Cheuk-ting. Photo: HKFP/Catherine Lai.

Lam, who worked as an ICAC investigator, said in a statement on Monday that the formal appointment was a “late decision,” and criticised Peh for leaving the post vacant for three years. Lam said Yau was a good choice, but Peh should resign.

“Ricky Yau is generally seen within the ICAC as a suitable candidate for [Head of Operations]. He has enough experience and leadership capability to lead the Operations Department,” Lam said.

Holmes Chan

Holmes Chan is a reporter at Hong Kong Free Press. He covers local news with a focus on law, politics, and social movements. He studied law and literature at the University of Hong Kong.