Ming Pao Daily News
26th April 2013
<ICAC Fails to Disclose HK$100k Gift Expenses>
50k Worth of Confectionery not Listed as Gift
The Independent Commission Against Corruption (ICAC) responded to the Legislative Council members three times that Timothy Tong Hin-ming, the former Commissioner of the ICAC, gave a total of HK$220,000 (US$28,000) worth of gifts, which were covered by public funding, during his tenure. Ming Pao’s investigation revealed that there are hundreds of thousands of dollars worth of other gifts which have not been counted. Amongst the hundreds of thousands of gifts, almost HK$50,000 (US$6,500) was spent on branded or “luxury” cookies and food items. These gifts were mainly given to China government departments and units. However, the public funding that covered these gifts was not included in the gift list totalling HK$220,000 (US$28,000) declared earlier. This means that the ICAC failed to provide the unit’s complete expenses to the Legislature.
The ICAC explained yesterday that the “confectionery expenses” were not disclosed because food should be not treated as gifts.
Beneficiaries are Mainly China Government Officials
A source at the ICAC who spoke on condition of anonymity disagreed with the ICAC’s definition, “These are souvenirs. Even though they are eatable, they are gifts. There is no need to argue about semantics, and expenses on these (items) should be disclosed.” Lawmakers were also outraged that ICAC did not submit relevant expenses to the Legislative Council, claiming that gifts do not include food, and thinks that the ICAC is deliberately attempting not to disclose such expenses.
In response to Ming Pao’s enquiry, the ICAC admitted that during his five years at the ICAC, Tong purchased cookies, Chinese style confectionery, birds nests, chocolates, egg rolls, etc. 64 times at a total of HK$48,000 (US$6,200), on average he purchased these items once a month. As for the thousands of dollars worth of gifts which were not reported to the Legislature, the ICAC said that they are still looking into the issue.
Asked about the approximately HK$50,000 (US$6,500) of confectionery expenditure not included in the HK$220,000 (US$28,000) gift item list submitted to the Legislative Council, the ICAC spokesperson explained that “the relevant ICAC staff” believed that food should not be regarded as gift when reviewing the information, “food should not be regarded as gift, hence the confectionery expenses were not included in the list.”
ICAC: Not Julie Mu Fee-man’s Order to Exclude Confectionery in Gift List
Ming Pao further asked if the determination (food is not gift) was given by Simon Peh Yun Lu, the current ICAC Commissioner. The ICAC spokesperson said it was the “ICAC staff” who arranged the gift list submitted to the Legislature but refused to disclose the staff’s identity. A reliable source informed Ming Pao that the individual who decided to exclude food from the gift list was Julie Mu Fee-man, ICAC’s Director of Community Relations. However, the ICAC’s spokesperson denied late yesterday (25th April 2013) that Julie Mu Fee-man was involved and said that it was the administration department that handled the gift list.
The spokesperson also emphasised that the ICAC did not intend to hide any information from the Legislature, nor did it intend to cover up for anyone. The spokesperson said the information the ICAC provided to the Legislative Council was very detailed, and the food that the unit sent to “members of the relevant organisations” to share are items with “Hong Kong characteristics”, including cookies and moon cake.
Lawmakers Dennis Kwok Wing-hang from the Civic Party and Cyd Ho Sau-Lan from the Labour Party asked the ICAC three times previously to make details of the gifts public, including the exact items that Tong gave during his tenure and their individual costs, together with any items and occasions on which Tong spent more than HK$500 (US$60).
The ICAC responded in writing on 3rd April to the lawmakers, detailing that Tong gave gifts 136 times amounting to HK$220,000 (US$28,000). On 22nd April, the ICAC again responded in writing a detail list of gifts, with a total amount of HK$218,600 and the 48 items that were over HK$500 (US$60) a piece. Simon Peh Yun Lu, the current Commissioner of the ICAC, met with the press on 24th April and said repeatedly that the ICAC has provided all details of gifts Tong gave out during his tenure.
However, according to various sources, during his tenure when his benefits and salary amounted to a total of HK$300,000 (US$42,500), Tong picked members of senior staff from various departments, including the operations department, to be his assistants. These members of staff handled various miscellaneous duties for him, including purchasing liquor and gifts. The ICAC staff were asked by Tong to visit Jenny Bakery, a famous independent bakery in Hong Kong, to purchase cookies costing HK$150 a tin (US$20). Often ICAC staff would purchase over a dozen tins at a time, costing tens of thousands of dollars over the years.
A source said that whenever Tong visited overseas, he would bring various types of confectionery for the officials and staff at the organisations he met. Tong also purchased moon cakes* with public funds, “many people in the ICAC knew about this.”
*a traditional egg-and sesame-paste pie eaten during Chinese Mid-Autumn festival
Ming Pao also looked into the gift list the ICAC provided to the Legislative Council, which details the 34 official visits Tong made outside Hong Kong. However, the list did not include any of the confectionery items. When asked by Ming Pao, the ICAC said there were 64 confectionery items amounting to HK$50,000 (US$6,500).