Hong Kong Secretary for Justice Teresa Cheng has refused to further explain the Department of Justice’s (DoJ) decision not to prosecute former chief executive Leung Chun-ying, following corruption allegations. She also defended her department’s move not to seek outside legal advice in the lead up to the decision.
Cheng, who had been on leave since December 15, returned to Hong Kong and faced reporters at the airport on Wednesday. The DoJ issued a short statement on December 12 stating that it would not charge Leung over his HK$50 million payment from Australian engineering firm UGL. The embattled justice chief had yet to comment on the matter, but said her break was planned over a month ago and was unrelated to Leung’s case.
“The policy of the Department of Justice in dealing with prosecutorial decisions has been to make the decision within the department itself. Therefore, unless the case involves a member of the DoJ, there would not be outside counsel being engaged,” she said.
“As to why certain people in the media, as I have noticed, [have] recorded and stated that perhaps there [is] more to add, I cannot comment – and I do not wish to comment because there could be other reasons beyond the legal analysis. The Department of Justice is only dealing with legal issues. Political issues have nothing to do with us, so I will not comment on that. ”
“When we were able to make this decision, there was no conflict of interest, there was no obvious bias – why did we need to seek another legal advice?” she added.
Cheng’s comments are at odds with past instances of cases related to top officials. The DoJ had sought outside legal advice in the cases of former financial secretary Antony Leung and former chief executive Donald Tsang, among others. Furthermore, when the DoJ revealed last week that Cheng would not be charged over illegal structures at her home, Director of Public Prosecution David Leung said in a statement that the DoJ sought outside legal advice from senior counsel Edwin Choy.
Leung Chun-ying received HK$50million from Australian engineering firm UGL as part of a takeover deal with insolvent property company DTZ, to prevent him from joining a rival firm within two years. The deal was signed shortly after Leung ran for chief executive in 2011. He received part of the payment after he became chief executive in 2012.
Leung became a vice-chair of the Chinese People’s Political Consultative Conference – a position granted to him before he left office in 2017.
‘Unbiased and fearless’
Cheng defended the DoJ’s decision as a “responsible” one.
“In any piece of work that the DoJ has done, we have been unbiased and fearless,” she said. “Regardless of whether the person is a top official, a central government official, a tycoon, or just a common resident, they will receive legal protection.”
“We will only consider the law and the relevant evidence in making the decision,” she added. “I hope you will not further politicise a legal issue.”
During the press Q&A, Cheng hit out at the media and refused to answer questions from reporters unless they raised their hands.
University of Hong Kong legal scholar Eric Cheung said on a RTHK radio programme on Thursday that Cheng had strayed from the DoJ’s past practice in seeking outside legal advice in cases relating to top officials.
“Her decision was either ignorance of past facts, or she changed the policy herself,” Cheung said.
Cheung said residents may use Cheng’s remarks as an argument for a judicial review in court, but the bar may be very high in challenging the DoJ’s decision.
Meanwhile, Executive Councillor Ronny Tong – who is a senior counsel – said he respected the DoJ’s decision, but added that the department could have done more to ease public concern.
“The more information for the public to consider, the better,” he told RTHK. “Although I believe the decision is correct and there is no need to reconsider whether to prosecute Leung Chun-ying, if the DoJ can reveal more factors that it considered, I believe society will be more convinced.”
Democratic Party lawmakers Andrew Wan and Lam Cheuk-ting protested outside Cheng’s office on Thursday morning.
“[Cheng] has politicised the incident herself,” Wan said. “The whole decision-making process and the reasoning have been unclear.”