A FactWire investigation has revealed that the sons of Hong Kong leadership hopeful John Lee both have business links to Election Committee members, who will cast their ballots for chief executive on May 8. Lee’s team has said he is not involved in these connections.
Lee’s eldest son, Gilbert Lee, is a senior executive at Hang Seng Bank. His direct superior, Diana Ferreira Cesar, is the bank’s chief and a finance subsector member of the Election Committee. Gilbert Lee was awarded a position in a government panel last year, soon after his father became the chief secretary for administration.
Jacky Lee, Lee’s youngest son, is a business partner of Li Sing-tui, a member of the Election Committee and the National Committee of the Chinese People’s Political Consultative Conference (CPPCC). Together, they own and operate a kindergarten in Dongguan that costs over HK$70,000 a year to attend.
The 64-year-old John Lee married in his twenties and has two sons. However, Lee’s family has yet to make a public appearance for the chief executive hopeful. John Lee submitted his nominations to secure his bid on Wednesday, with a total of 786 nominations from more than half of the Election Committee. In response to an enquiry from FactWire, his team said that the submission did not include nominations from Cesar nor Li.
Gilbert Lee, now thought to be about 45 years old, was admitted to his father’s alma mater, Wah Yan College Kowloon, in 1989. He obtained a Bachelor of Finance at the University of Hong Kong, a Master’s of Science in Business Economics at the Chinese University of Hong Kong, and a Master’s of Business Administration at INSEAD, in France.
According to Hang Seng Bank’s annual report, Gilbert Lee worked at Citibank, the Bank of America, Booz & Company and Wells Fargo before he joined Hang Seng Bank in 2014 as Head of Strategy & Planning.
Records show that he often represents Hang Seng at public events related to start-up corporate development projects. He has collaborated with Hong Kong Science Park to offer interest-free loans to start-ups, and with Cyberport to support start-up corporate development in the Greater Bay Area.
In 2018, Gilbert Lee took up an additional job at Hang Seng Bank as the chief of staff to the chief executive. He was also appointed a member of the bank’s executive committee, where the chief executive at the time was Louisa Cheang. Former HSBC chief executive Cesar took over that post in September last year, just a few days before she was confirmed to be an uncontested member of the Election Committee in the finance sector.
John Lee rarely speaks about his family. Recently, an archived Ming Pao piece from June 1990 resurfaced. In the article, Gilbert Lee nominated his father to a list of “top 10 modern fathers.” In the interview that followed, John Lee shared stories about playing with his children and gave out parenting advice, suggesting that parents keep a close eye on their child’s emotional development and well-being in order to foster a closer relationship.
A photo taken in 2017, when John Lee was awarded the Silver Bauhinia Star, shows John Lee, his wife Janet Lam, Gilbert Lee and the then chief secretary for administration, Matthew Cheung.
In June last year, John Lee was appointed chief secretary for administration. A government press release states that Gilbert Lee was appointed by the government to be a member of the Financial Reporting Review Panel (FRRP) on 15 July 2021 for a term of three years.
The FRRP is a statutory body under the Financial Reporting Council (FRC) currently with nine convenors and 34 members. The FRC can appoint a council consisting of a convenor as chairman and at least four other members of the FRRP to conduct an inquiry into a listed entity’s non-compliance with financial reporting requirements.
The inquiry process may include requests for relevant parties’ records, documents, information and explanations. For instance, the FRC decided in August last year to conduct an inquiry into Next Digital Limited’s finances from 2019 to 2021, but the list of members on the inquiry council – and consequently whether Gilbert Lee was on that council – remains unknown.
John Lee’s youngest son Jacky Lee, thought to be about 39 years old, also studied at Wah Yan College Kowloon. He was a classmate of Ricky Chiu, founder of Phase Scientific International and a CUHK adjunct associate professor.
In 2005, Jacky Lee obtained a Bachelor of Science in Computer Science and Information Systems from HKU. He began his career at an IT firm, then moved on to work in finance, first at the Bank of China, then HSBC and, after that, the Bank of Communications, all as an IT audit manager. According to an online CV on his LinkedIn account, he is a certified information systems auditor (CISA) and a certified information security manager (CISM).
The CV states that Jacky Lee joined Fubon Bank in October 2017 as the Head of IT Compliance but left after only nine months. Companies Registry records show that he founded Revan Education Consulting Limited with Li Ying-fei, a member of the Guangdong Provincial Committee of the Chinese People’s Political Consultative Conference, in 2018. Jacky Lee is now the sole proprietor of the company while Li acts as the company secretary.
According to company registration records in the mainland, Jacky Lee and his company, Revan Education Consulting Limited, fully own Dongguan Ying Yi Corporate Management Consultant Limited* (東莞英藝企業管理顧問有限公司).
“Ying Yi”, founded in 2018, further holds a 30% share of Dongguan City Tung Wah Bilingual Art Kindergarten Limited* (東莞市東華中英文藝術幼兒園有限公司), a subsidiary founded in 2019. Its name was then changed to Dongguan City Dongcheng Tung Wah Ying Yi Kindergarten Limited* (東莞市東城東華英藝幼兒園有限公司). The other 70% share is held by the Dongguan City Tung Wah Education Group* (東莞市東華教育集團), of which Li Ying-fei is the director.
Dongguan City Tung Wah Education Group*, in turn, was founded by Hong Kong businessman Li Sing-tui, whose hometown is Dongguan. The group has opened a number of schools in Dongguan ranging from kindergartens to high schools. Its parent company, Dongguan City Tung Wah Enterprise Limited* (東莞市東華實業有限公司), is also involved in the hotel, hospital and travel agency industries.
A FactWire visit to the address at which Revan Education is registered – a Sheung Wan office – found that it is nominally the office of a company named Eternal City Development Limited, 90% of which is owned by Li Sing-tui. Some of the other shareholders, including Li Ying-fei, share the same surname, and some share the same address, suggesting that it could be a family business.
Li Sing-tui is currently a Hong Kong Special Administrative Region member of the National Committee of the CPPCC, and thus an ex-officio member of the Election Committee. Li is also a permanent honorary president of the Hong Kong Island Federation, one of the three ‘”grassroots associations” referred to in the Chief Executive Election Ordinance.
Other permanent honorary presidents of the same rank include late Hong Kong-Macau billionaire Stanley Ho and former secretary for home affairs Tsang Tak-sing.
The Hong Kong Island Federation supported the pro-establishment camp in the 2019 District Council election and organised a forum for Election Committee candidates last year. The association’s president, Cai Yi, along with a number of executive vice directors, have already expressed their support for John Lee’s ostensible chief executive term.
Li Sing-tui has also been an active political commentator in recent years, and has criticised the US for “intervening” in Hong Kong’s affairs and said that the recently overhauled electoral system benefits Hong Kong’s stability and development.
The kindergarten owned by Jacky Lee’s and Li Sing-tui’s companies in Dongguan, Tung Wah Bilingual Art Kindergarten, lies between a hospital and hotel run by the same organization, Tung Wah Group. According to a 2019 advertisement in local newspaper the Dongguan Daily, the campus has some 72,000 square feet and can host 18 classes and more than 500 students.
The advertisement describes the kindergarten as a “high-class Chinese and English art kindergarten”. According to a 2020 Dongguan provincial government document, the kindergarten’s tuition is RMB4,980 per month, with an additional RMB540 fee for meals. As there are two school terms per year (each lasting for five and a half months), the annual school fee comes to RMB60,720, which equates to approximately HK$74,700.
A mainland media report suggests that this is the fifth-highest school fee among Dongguan’s thousand-odd kindergartens.
John Lee’s team said in response to FactWire’s enquiries that his family is supportive of his chief executive bid. The reply said he had not been involved in Gilbert Lee’s nomination to the FRRP, and that there is no conflict of interest between Jacky Lee’s personal businesses and his father’s leadership candidacy. According to the reply, neither Cesar nor Li Sing-tui nominated John Lee for the chief executive election.
FactWire also contacted the office of Financial Secretary Paul Chan, who appointed Gilbert Lee to the FRRP, to ask if the secretary was informed that Gilbert Lee was John Lee’s son. The office stated in its reply that the appointment in July last year was made according to the Financial Reporting Council Ordinance. It did not say whether Chan knew about Gilbert Lee’s family background, instead pointing out that John Lee was not involved in the appointment.
A FactWire request sent to the FRC for a list of FRRP councils that Gilbert Lee has been a part of so far had received no response at the time of writing.
* The company’s English name has been translated from the original Chinese by FactWire
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