Hong Kong’s beleaguered justice minister should explain the “unfortunate” scandal over illegal structures at her luxury home but she should also be given space to handle the issue, a veteran government adviser said on Saturday.
Speaking on a morning radio show, Laura Cha Shih May-lung, a member of the Executive Council – which advises the city’s leader on policy – since 2004, acknowledged that officials had to pay a high price of sacrificing privacy when they took on top posts.
“I believe Secretary for Justice Teresa Cheng Yeuk-wah would explain the matter clearly. At this stage, we should give her room to tackle this,” Cha said.
Her comments follow a similar appeal made by Chief Executive Carrie Lam Cheng Yuet-ngor, who has been defending Cheng since the latter was embroiled in controversy on her first day in office last week.
On Friday, the scandal over Cheng’s failure to disclose illegal structures at her HK$26 million home in Tuen Mun deepened as police looked into complaints filed against her. At question was whether she “intentionally misled” a bank to secure a mortgage without mentioning an illegal 538 sq ft basement at her house.
“Having worked in the Executive Council for so many years, I see that the price of being a public official is very high. I hope people can understand [Cheng] … I believe she would handle the matter well.”
Since last Saturday, when she took office and news of unauthorised extensions in her home at the Villa De Mer estate emerged, Cheng has held two press briefings and issued one written statement on the matter.
Buildings Department inspectors last Sunday confirmed 10 illegal extensions at her house and her husband Otto Poon Lok-to’s home next door. But Cheng insisted that the structures were already there when she bought her three-storey property in 2008.
While Cheng has asserted it was “not a question of common sense” that she should have checked the legality of the extensions, a 2003 court case studied by the Post highlighted her expertise on the issue of illegal structures.
The case involved the buyer of a flat under construction complaining about defects when he inspected it upon completion. Cheng, representing the buyer, argued they amounted to illegal building works because they were not done according to requirements under the Buildings Ordinance.
Row over Hong Kong justice chief’s illegal structures at her home shows city’s knack for self-destruction
Mortgage documents on Cheng’s home also revealed that she did not mention the existence of a basement, which was among the 10 illegal extensions, when she secured financing from Standard Chartered Bank.
Police are investigating a complaint accusing Cheng of keeping the basement off the books to win loans.
The Post has approached the Department of Justice over the mortgage deed and the 2003 case handled by Cheng, but her office has not responded in more than two days.