Turmoil in Hong Kong ICAC: Leung Camp Shoots Itself In The Foot

By Lin Yi and Zhu Li
July 20, 2016 Updated: July 21, 2016

The Independent Commission Against Corruption (ICAC), Hong Kong’s anti-corruption watchdog, has recently become embroiled in a furore over the controversial resignation of two senior staff. Commentators believe that this incident would wipe out Hong Kong people’s already plummeting confidence in the “one country, two systems”.

Rebecca Li Bo-lan, a widely respected figure who was appointed about a year ago as the acting head of the Operations Department,  resigned shortly after she was removed from the post in early July, 2016. Li’s departure was followed by the resignation of Principal Investigator Dale Ko, Li’s close aide and a rising star in the ICAC.

It was reported that the incident had angered many ICAC staff and led to a mass boycott of the department’s annual dinner scheduled on July 15, which happened to be Li’s last working day. The dinner was said to have been postponed.

Rebecca Li (Photo ICAC)
Rebecca Li (Photo ICAC)

Sources say that Rebecca Li was investigating Leung Chun-ying’s suspected bribery case involving Australian firm UGL. However, ICAC Commissioner Simon Peh Yun-lu announced that the removal of Li from the acting appointment was solely based on the fact that her performance was not up to the standard required, while refusing to disclose any further details. Peh Yun-lu, a former Commissioner of the Immigration Department who retired in 2011, was handpicked by Leung Chun-ying to take up his current position. Such background gave rise to suspicion that Peh might have acted under the influence of Leung Chun-ying in removing Li.

Veteran journalist Li Wei-Ling published an article in the Apple Daily questioning Peh’s decision.  “If I am an ICAC frontline officer, my first question is: On what ground can Simon Peh Yun-lu say that Rebecca Li failed to measure up? Working her way up from the lowest level in the past 30 years, Rebecca Li has gained wide recognition both within and outside of the ICAC. Without an outstanding record, Li would not have been promoted to such a position. In contrast, Peh Yun-lu, the former Director of the Immigration Department appointed by Leung Chun-ying to head the ICAC in mid-2012, is no match to Li in matters relating to graft busting”.

With a Master Degree of Criminal Justice Studies from the University of Leicester, Rebecca Li joined the ICAC in 1984 as an Assistant Investigation Officer. In 2002, Li was promoted to Chief Investigation Officer, and in 2004 to Assistant Director of Investigation. In 2010, she became Director of Operations responsible for dealing with corruption in the private sector. On July 18, 2015, Li was made the acting head of Operations Department, the first “Big Sister” of the powerful arm of the ICAC. Li succeeded in cracking down on a few high-profile corruption cases and was the first female ICAC officer to be sent for special training with the Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI) in the U.S.

On the other hand, Simon Peh Yun-lu joined the Hong Kong Immigration Department where he worked for 30 years until he retired in 2011 as its Director. During Peh’s tenure, the Immigration Department, several times, conspired with the Chinese Communist regime to reject the entry of pro-democracy activists into Hong Kong, causing great damage to the territory’s high degree of autonomy and international reputation.

In 2010, the Immigration Department refused to issue visas to 6 key technicians of the New York based, Shen Yun Performing Arts Company, which resulted in the cancellation of 7 scheduled Shen Yun performances in Hong Kong. The organizer of the performance filed for a judicial review. In March 2011, the Hong Kong High Court handed down the ruling that the decision of the Immigration Department was groundless.

The first day Peh Yun-lu took office at the ICAC in 2012, he told the public that Leung Chun-ying called him in person and invited him to take up the position of ICAC’s Commissioner.

Democratic Party lawmaker Albert Ho Chun-yan and Lam Cheuk-ting, an ex-ICAC investigator, quoting sources, said that Rebecca Li, as the head of the Operation Department, was in charge of the UGL case. They also said that the ICAC had asked the Chief Executive Office and the Executive Council to provide relevant information on Leung’s declaration of interest. However, both bodies failed to provide any responses thus far.

On July 14, attending his last question and answer session in the Legislative Council before its summer recess, Leung was grilled over the recent shake-up of the ICAC and the HK$50 million UGL corruption case. Some members from the pro-establishment camp also chose to distance themselves from Leung, causing great embarrassment to him.

In the Q&A session, Civic Party lawmaker Alvin Yeung Ngok-kiu asked if Leung was behind Li’s removal because ICAC is investigating the UGL case.

He asked: “Did Leung receive money from UGL after he took office? Has Leung declared it to the Executive Council? Is Leung courageous enough to disclose the documents between him and UGL to the Hong Kong people and let them see whether he has committed any corruption?” Alvin Yeung added: “I want to remind Mr Leung Chun-ying. When you don’t have this protective umbrella as the Chief Executive, you will be the next Hui Si-yan”. Hui Si-yan is a former Chief Secretary of Administration of Hong Kong that was convicted of public office misconduct and bribery by a jury in Hong Kong on Dec 19, 2014.

Democratic Party lawmaker James To Kun-sun said: “The trust and structure laboriously built by the Hong Kong people, is totally ruined today in your hands, Mr Leung”.

Legal professional David Tang wrote in Standnews: “What does Beijing expect Hong Kong to achieve? Only one word – money. What is behind Hong Kong’s capability to make money? Firstly, it is justice; and secondly, the lCAC. Otherwise, why do state-owned enterprises raise funds in Hong Kong? Why do mainland elites desperately send their money and children to Hong Kong? …. If Leung Chun-ying really plays foul with the lCAC for the HK$50 million he took, I really doubt that Beijing will let him off the hook”.

According to sources close to central government, Beijing has completed a report on the UGL case, which has documented opinions of Hong Kong’s legal heavyweights who believe that Leung Chun-ying will be prosecuted by the ICAC and also possibly by the U.K. and Australian authorities.

Translated by Thomas Leung. Edited by Stanley Ng.

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