The Hong Kong police force has come under public scrutiny after three senior officers were alleged to have broken land and housing laws.
The controversy surrounded Rupert Dover, a British-born officer who joined the Hong Kong police force in 1988. Dover became a controversial figure last June for his highly-visible role as a commander in the crackdown on protests against the now-axed bill that would have enabled extraditions to China.
Demonstrators have since demanded that Dover be held accountable for his role in the handling of the protests. But in February, despite a public outcry, he was promoted from deputy regional commander to assistant police commissioner.
Last week, local media revealed a number of allegations against Dover. Since then, two government departments have said that they will investigate the property scandal, though the police force has yet to respond to the allegations.
Last Friday, Next Magazine reported that Dover and his wife – also a police officer – lived in a house in Pik Shui Sun Tsuen, Sai Kung, that was built on government land under a non-transferrable licence that only allows the holder and their immediate family to reside there.
Dover said that the house belonged to a relative of his wife, who gave them permission to live there. He did not specify the relationship, but said that he would move out if ordered to by the Lands Department.
The Lands Department confirmed that the house Dover lived in was covered by a government land licence, but did not give any details about the occupant. It also said that the licence restricted the structure to a height of two stories.
The comment may suggest that an additional rooftop structure at Dover’s house violated the regulation. Ten officials from the department were sent to inspect the property on Monday morning.
Apple Daily also alleged that the front yard of the house exceeded the licensed area by about 100 square feet, raising concerns of a case of unlawful occupation of government land.
Meanwhile, Apple Daily reported that Dover and his wife had advertised another house in the same village as a bed and breakfast over the past six years.
The Lands Department said that the house Dover allegedly rented out as a guesthouse should only be used for storage purposes. It said it would carry out site inspections to investigate further.
The Homes Affairs Department said the impugned house did not have a licence to operate as a guesthouse. It said the Licensing Authority would follow up on the matter and might prosecute if there was sufficient evidence to pursue the case.
Operating guesthouses without a licence is an offence punishable by a maximum fine of HK$200,000 and two years’ imprisonment under the Hotel and Guesthouse Accommodation Ordinance.
Apple Daily also revealed that Dover was a founding member of a company called Voltage Stabilisers International (HK) Limited, an air-conditioning business. The most recent company records, submitted last November, showed that Dover was the biggest shareholder with 60 per cent shareholding.
A police spokesperson said that officers are generally allowed to make private investments as long as there is no conflict of interest. In addition, the Police General Order stipulates that officers must seek prior approval before engaging in outside work for remuneration.
The spokesperson declined to comment on whether Dover’s side business complied with the regulations. They also did not respond to the other allegations against Dover.
On Tuesday, two Next Magazine journalists were arrested on suspicion of loitering in Pik Shui Sun Tsuen while on assignment to investigate Dover. According to Next Magazine, a police sergeant allegedly told the reporters: “Do you know that a very important person lives there? Do you know that person is Dover?” The outlet said that police searched the reporters’ notebooks and camera without proper legal orders.
On Friday, a Facebook user – believed to be Dover’s wife – reportedly changed her profile picture to a photo of the Apple Daily reporter who wrote about Dover. Dover did not confirm or deny whether the Facebook account belonged to his wife, but responded to Apple Daily as saying that “it’s completely up to her.”
The news outlet alleged that the act was an attempt to intimidate its journalists. It also questioned how Dover’s wife obtained the information of the reporter, who did not have a byline in the news stories.
The office of the Privacy Commissioner said that it would investigate the matter after receiving Apple Daily’s complaint. It declined to make further comment.
The Hong Kong Journalists Association, meanwhile, condemned Tuesday’s arrest, calling it an abuse of power and intimidation of journalists. It also raised concerns over the Facebook picture incident and urged the force to probe the conduct of its officers.
David John Jordan
Following the Dover controversy, more senior police officers have been accused of violating land and building laws.
Apple Daily alleged that chief superintendent David John Jordan – another controversial figure who has led the special squads to clamp down on the anti-extradition protests – had occupied government land unlawfully in the village of Tin Liu, Sai Kung.
According to Apple Daily, Jordan’s house has a fenced backyard with an area of about 200 square feet. Traffic cones were allegedly spotted inside the backyard, as well as outside his house to mark a makeshift parking lot. Jordan was reportedly seen entering a car parked there.
Lawmaker Eddie Chu told Apple Daily that, after consulting maps and documents, he believed the land Jordan’s backyard and parking lot sat on belonged to the government. Meanwhile, barrister Albert Luk said that taking traffic cones – which are public property – used for personal purposes could constitute theft and violate the Road Traffic Ordinance.
Vasco Gareth Llewellyn Williams
Apple Daily also revealed that superintendent Vasco Gareth Llewellyn Williams had an air-conditioned glass structure of about 500 square feet installed on the rooftop of his village house in Tai Tung Tsuen, Sai Kung.
Alterations to village houses are strictly regulated and require the approval of the Buildings Department save for a number of exemptions. The rooftop structure does not appear to fall under the exempt categories.
Williams came under fire last September after he dismissed allegations of police misconduct by controversially referring to a protester who appeared to be beaten up by a group of police officers in widely circulated videos as a “yellow object.”
A police spokesperson declined to comment on specific cases, but said that they would look into the allegation concerning Jordan and the traffic cones.
On Monday, the police chief was also splashed across the cover of the Apple Daily, as they claimed Chris Tang had turned a blind eye to unauthorised building works at a property he rented in 2016. The force called the report “unfounded” on Monday, and said Tang had informed the owner of the violation. “Nevertheless, the owner has not complied with the order. Mr Tang hence moved out from the unit in June 2019,” a spokesperson said.