Hong Kong’s new Secretary for Justice Teresa Cheng says the unauthorised structures at her home already existed when she bought the property in 2008.
Local media published front page reports on Saturday – the first day of her tenure – alleging that her property included a suspected 400 square feet basement, an additional room on the roof, an additional balcony and two additional small ponds on the ground floor.
Cheng, who was appointed on Friday, said she did not conduct any structural changes after she bought the house in Tuen Mun: “My awareness should have been better.”
Cheng completed a bachelor of science degree in civil engineering from King’s College London in 1981 before obtaining a bachelor of laws from the University of London in 1986 to become a barrister.
She met the press at 2:30pm on Saturday, after issuing a statement at noon apologising “for the inconvenience caused.”
A spokesperson for the Buildings Department said it received media enquiries in late December about unauthorised structures at blocks 2, 3 and 4 of Villa De Mer in Tuen Mun. Cheng lives in block 4.
On Friday, officers arrived at the house but they were unable to enter to conduct an inspection. They left a notice saying they will apply for a court order.
Cheng said she immediately commissioned a professional, authorised person to inspect and cooperate with the Buildings Department.
“I promise that, if there were any violations, I will immediately conduct relevant work in accordance with requests from the authorised person and the Buildings Department,” she said.
She said she will not participate in any potential prosecutions or legal proceedings: “My colleagues will have a way to handle it without my participation, to avoid any substantial or apparent conflict of interest.”
Otto Poon, former president of the Hong Kong Institution of Engineers, owns the neighbouring block 3. After Cheng revealed that Poon was her husband, Apple Daily reported that the two residences were connected with a door.
Poon was also a member of the chief executive election committee last year.
Cheng reported the controversy to Chief Executive Carrie Lam on Friday afternoon, after she was appointed as justice chief.
Lam advised her to give an open account as soon as possible to allay any public concern.
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.