Three top Hong Kong officials have confirmed that they were fined for breaching Covid-19 social distancing rules after attending a nine-person dinner at a private Wan Chai club in early March.
The prohibited gathering was uncovered by local media on Wednesday.
Hong Kong’s Covid-19 social distancing regulations at the time limited dining capacity to four per table. People who attend a prohibited gathering face a fixed HK$5,000 fine.
The fines came to light while police were investigating a case of a woman who was sexually assaulted in her home after attending the dinner. A man has since been charged with attempted rape.
Director of Immigration, Au Ka-wang, and Customs and Excise Commissioner, Hermes Tang, admitted to breaching the regulations on Thursday, and denied any connection with the criminal case.
“I confirm that I have attended a dinner hosted at a catering premises earlier and was issued a fixed penalty notice for failing to meet the maximum persons allowed rule as required in the Prevention and Control of Disease Ordinance. This fine has been paid,” two identical statements read .
“I must clarify that the dinner was not involved in the aforesaid criminal case ,” the statements continued.
Undersecretary for Security, Sonny Au, also admitted to being fined at the same event. The trio vowed to comply with regulations in the future.
The Security Bureau issued a statement on Friday saying the trio apologised and that only three government officials attended the dinner. The bureau added that the three were under the mistaken assumption that the dinner was hosted at a “private place” not regulated by the social distancing restrictions.
“The work of the three require frequent contact with people from all walks of life,” the statement read, adding that the dinner was an “ordinary social gathering.”
Others in attendance included senior mainland officials and commercial executives, according to local media reports.
Director Au and Commissioner Tang may be in breach of regulations governing civil servants behaviour for accepting the luxury dinner, former Independent Commission Against Corruption (ICAC) chief investigator Stephen Char told HKFP.
The minimum spend per person for private rooms at the luxury clubhouse in Wan Chai are as high as HK$3,888.
Char said that, although civil servants are permitted to accept entertainment under the Prevention of Bribery Ordinance, they are prohibited from accepting “lavish or frequent entertainment” under civil service regulations.
“If they accept lavish entertainment, they may be investigated by the civil service branch and face possible disciplinary action. A HK$3,000 dinner is lavish by all standards,” Char said .
He added that Au’s position as under secretary for security was not governed by the civil service regulations.
Both the Immigration Department and the Customs and Excise Department declined to respond to HKFP’s inquiries regarding the exact cost of the dinner.
Update 09.06.21: This article was updated to include the Security Bureau’s statement.