- Oops!Something went wrong.Please try again later.
Hong Kong’s justice minister is caught up in another controversy, this time over a declaration of interest involving her husband’s luxury Mid-Levels properties.
But Teresa Cheng Yeuk-wah on Thursday dismissed the need to declare the two properties to the cabinet, saying she had no personal stake in the flats, although the opposition camp accused her of double standards as she had registered another house solely owned by her husband.
The secretary for justice’s decision to not disclose some of her husband’s properties also contrasted with the views of a fellow Executive Council member, who said politicians had to go the extra mile and be transparent about their spouses’ interests.
Cheng’s husband, veteran engineer Otto Poon Lok-to, bought two properties late last year. It also emerged that he could have saved more than HK$10 million (US$1.3 million) worth of stamp duty on one of the flats.
A land search by the Post confirmed that Poon, a former president of the Hong Kong Institution of Engineers, bought a flat on Albany Road in Mid-Levels in his own name for HK$89.9 million in October 2018.
The deal for the other property was more complex. In December, he took over the sole directorship of Polycool Limited, a private company that bought a duplex on Robinson Road in Mid-Levels for HK$53.5 million in 2011.
The company’s only shareholder was an offshore firm registered in the British Virgin Islands.
As the new director of Polycool, Poon effectively owns the duplex despite there being no change in property ownership on paper.
On Thursday evening, Poon confirmed he had bought Polycool from the BVI firm, Palette Capital, for HK$78.8 million in December, including the duplex.
He said he had no relations with the BVI company before or after the property purchase.
Under normal circumstances, a company buyer has to pay 15 per cent of the price of a property in stamp duty.
In the duplex’s case, as there was no change of ownership in the Land Registry, a stamp duty of more than HK$10 million could have been saved, considering its market value.
The two properties are not included in Cheng’s most recent declaration form to Exco, although a house owned by Poon in Tuen Mun is listed.
According to Exco’s rules, Cheng is required to declare land or property she owns or has beneficial interest in, even if ownership is via an intermediary company, trust or Reit.
Members are also required to declare land or property they own but held in the name of spouses.
Cheng’s press secretary said the minister did not have a beneficial interest in the two properties, or ownership of them, or of the offshore company.
“So based on Exco rules and code for officials under the political appointment system, the secretary is not required to make a declaration,” he said.
But he did not respond on whether Cheng was aware of the two properties or had ever lived in them.
The Executive Council secretariat said it would not comment on the case.
Fellow Exco member Ronny Tong Ka-wah said Cheng may not have broken any rules but politicians should go the extra mile.
“I have always declared properties owned by my wife,” Tong said. “The secretary may choose to declare the properties once it was reported, instead of arguing there was no conflict of interest.”
But another Exco member, Ip Kwok-him, said he and his wife were financially independent so it would create problems if spouses’ properties had to be declared.
Council Front lawmaker Claudia Mo Man-ching, convenor of the pro-democracy camp, questioned why Cheng had declared another property owned by Poon but not the recent purchases.
“She’s applied double standards to herself, doing whatever is convenient,” Mo said.
Mo also said Cheng lacked “a sense of propriety” and had left the public a bad impression. But she conceded Cheng might not be obliged to declare properties she did not have a stake in.
Soon after taking office in January last year, Cheng was embroiled in a scandal involving unauthorised building works at houses she and her husband separately owned in Tuen Mun.
Poon was convicted over building a pool without planning permission and fined HK$20,000.