Ming Pao Daily News
24th April 2013
<ICAC’s Timothy Tong Treats China Officials, Approving Himself for Claims Exceed Maximum Spending>
Based on our investigation, the Independent Commission Against Corruption (ICAC) threw two banquets for China government officials at the Grand Hyatt Hotel in Wan Chai during November and December 2010. One of the banquets was held for the officials from Sichuan who came to Hong Kong to thank HKSAR government for their donation to the earthquake appeal back in 2008. The total expenditure of these two events were HK$80,000 (US$13,000), approximately HK$1,200 (US$160) per head, which is far more than the maximum of HK$450 (US$60) per head stipulated by ICAC guidelines. Timothy Tong Hin-Ming, the then Commissioner of the ICAC, treated the guests at both banquets with at least 20 bottles of expensive liquor, including MaoTai and Cognac, which were prepared and paid for by the ICAC. When asked about these banquets, Tong said he could not remember the details.
ICAC: Tong Approved the Banquets
In response to the paper’s enquiry, ICAC’s spokesperson admitted that “all the guests attending both banquets were invited by Tong” and that the per head spending was between HK$1,100 and HK$1,200 (US$140 – US$160) – higher than the maximum per head evening banquet allowance. The costs of both banquets were approved, in advance, by Tong. The ICAC also confirmed that Tong separately approved the expenditure on liquor consumed at both banquets, meaning that Tong separated the bills for liquor, and banquets.
Tong Says Can’t Remember: Problems Start to Emerge after Becoming a CPPCC Member
Asked about exceeding the ICAC claim limit, Tong responded via a phone interview that, “I cannot remember now and I don’t have any information.” When asked about the details of the banquets, Tong interrupted, “Listen, why don’t you contact the department (ICAC)?”, “I can explain in more detail once I get a chance to organise it (sic). As you know, a lot of the problems have emerged in recent months after I become a member of the CPPCC. I hope the problems will not become more complicated.”
Ming Pao received a tip from a citizen, accusing the ICAC of hosting two banquets at the Grand Hyatt Hotel in November and December 2010. Both events were held on the sixth floor of the hotel in a private room with full harbour views. Tong hosted both events, at which all guests were China government officials. Each banquet entertained 20 to 30 guests. The bill for the November banquet was around HK$41,000 (US$5,000), around HK$1,100 (US$140) per head. This exceeded the HK$450 limit for dinner stipulated in ICAC Ordinance Standing Orders. The banquet held in early December 2010 cost HK$36,000 (US$4,700), representing a cost per head of HK$1,200, also exceeding the limit.
If the per-head expenditure for dinner exceeds the limit stated in ICAC’s Standing Orders, it will not be regarded as violating them provided that the Commissioner approves the expenditure. Given that the Commissioner attended both banquets, approving the expenditures himself could be considered a conflict of interest.
The ICAC has refused to disclose the guest list of the banquets, and emphasised that they are the senior officials from China’s inspection departments and other relevant departments. However, according to information collected, Cao Jianming, Procurator-General of the Supreme People’s Procuratorate, visited the ICAC in November 2010 and attended the ICAC banquet afterward. Wei Hong, Vice-Governor of Sichuan Province (currently Governor of Sichuan Province), and other officials visited Hong Kong early December to thank the HKSAR government for assisting the post-earthquake rebuild of Sichuan. Wei and his team attended the banquet hosted by Tong at Grand Hyatt Hotel after their visit of the ICAC.
On top of the banquets prepared for China officials, the ICAC also revealed the list of gifts Tong gave out during his tenure. Between 2010 and 2011, four gifts amounting to HK$8,000 (US$1,000) were sent to Cao Jianming. This shows that during Tong’s term, Cao was highly valued by the ICAC.
ICAC Prepares 20 Bottles of Maotai and Cognac
Based on Ming Pao’s research, over 20 bottles of expensive liquor, including Maotai and Cognac, was served at the above banquets. However, this liquor was not provided by the Grand Hyatt Hotel, but prepared by the ICAC. One cannot help but question, why does an independent department whose role is to combat corruption, stock up liquor in quantity? The ICAC did not give a response.
It is no news that the ICAC spends over the statutory limit to entertain guests: The Audit Commission revealed that at an international event held by the ICAC in Hong Kong two years ago, guests were treated to two banquets: The ICAC illegally used two tricks to bypass the HK$450 per head per meal limit stipulated in law: splitting the bill into two separate meals, and categorising dining expenses as promotional expenses.
The Audit Commission revealed the details of one dinner hosting 10 ICAC members, including Tong, and 13 guests. The per head expenditure was HK$431 (US$55) which did not exceed the limit, whilst the dessert and six bottles of wine (an average of HK$92 per head) boosted the cost per guest to HK$523 (US$67) which would have exceeded the limit. The dinner and dessert were claimed separately and the wine consumed was claimed as promotional expenditure. In another dinner, the ICAC invited 110 guests with an average cost of HK$1,045 (US$140) which was claimed under “promotion fees”.
Audit Commission: Have not Audited all Expenses
ICAC responded that the banquet hosted by Tong in November at the Grand Hyatt Hotel is excluded from the Audit Commission’s coverage. The December banquet, on the other hand, has been audited by the Audit Commission and confirmed that Tong approved himself the additional expenses. A spokesperson at the Audit Commission said that the random audit they have done so far did not cover all of the ICAC’s entertainment expenses, but only the expenses claims put forward by the Community Relations Department of the ICAC for the purpose of “preventive education and enlisting public support against corruption”.