The Buildings Department will not take legal action over illegal structures found at three properties belonging to the Secretary for Justice Teresa Cheng. This was because the structures had been corrected, the department said.

A Buildings Department spokesperson told HKFP on Monday that Cheng’s case was dealt with according to protocol.

Teresa Cheng
Teresa Cheng.

“We did not give special treatment based on the identity and social status of the person involved, and our actions did not deviate from the Buildings Ordinance,” the spokesperson said.

Cheng disclosed in January that there were unauthorised alterations at three properties she owned: at Repulse Bay, the Royal Ascot in Shatin and Kin Ho Industrial Building in Fo Tan respectively. The Buildings Department spokesperson said that all of the alterations were removed in February and April this year.

“During the Buildings Department’s law enforcement action against unauthorised building works, the consistent policy is to ask the property owner to correct the infraction as soon as possible,” the spokesperson said.

Unauthorised building works were also discovered at her Tuen Mun home. 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.

But, in a separate move on Friday, prosecutors dropped their case over the alterations at the Tuen Mun property citing insufficient evidence.

Teresa Cheng
Buildings Department officers examining Teresa Cheng’s house. Photo: Citizen News.

While the case of Cheng’s Tuen Mun home was referred to the Department of Justice, the Buildings Department did not start a criminal investigation for Cheng’s Repulse Bay, Shatin and Fo Tan properties.

“Under normal circumstances, the Buildings Department will not start a criminal investigation into violations of the Buildings Ordinance,” the statement continued.

The spokesperson said the Department followed up with all cases of illegal structures and found no reason to commence a criminal investigation. Since there was no criminal investigation, there was no need to determine whether to prosecute.

“In fact, the Department sometimes faces similar situations when dealing with unauthorised building works. If the Department were to single out the Shatin and Repulse Bay properties owned by the Secretary for Justice for criminal investigation, that would be a deviation from general principles and cause unfairness,” the spokesperson added.

Cheng is currently on official leave until December 27.

Otto Poon Teresa Cheng
Otto Poon and Teresa Cheng.

Cheng and her husband Otto Poon own adjacent residential properties in Tuen Mun. While Cheng escaped charges on Friday, the Department of Justice decided to prosecute Poon on the same day.

Issues surrounding unauthorised building works have plagued top politicians in Hong Kong. In 2012, chief executive hopeful Henry Tang was found to have an unauthorised basement at his home – it was filled and sealed, but his campaign failed to recover from the scandal.

His rival Leung Chun-ying was also found to have six unauthorised structures at his Peak residence. They were removed and the basement was also filled in.

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.