Govt should probe hotpot meal: ex-ICAC investigator

A former ICAC chief investigator said on Monday that the government needs to investigate whether three senior officials, who had a free hotpot meal at a luxurious private club back in March, had violated any codes of conduct.

Barrister Stephen Char said the administration should not play down the matter as it’s important for the public to see the case being handled in an impartial and fair manner.

Last week, it was revealed that immigration and customs chiefs Au Ka-wang and Hermes Tang, along with undersecretary for security Sonny Au and six others were each fined HK$5,000 for flouting a cap on group gatherings, after a police investigation into a rape case uncovered the dinner in Wan Chai.

The Security Bureau later said the officials didn’t know how much the dinner cost, adding that they had been invited to the event, reportedly by mainland developer Evergrande.

However, government regulations clearly stipulate that all civil servants and politically-appointed officials “must avoid any lavish, unreasonably generous or frequent entertainment that may lead to embarrassment in performing official duties or bring the civil service into disrepute”.

Char told an RTHK programme that it’s unacceptable for the officials to claim they had no idea how much the meal had cost at the exclusive club.

“It’s not a dai pai dong that they went to,” he said. “The government is clearly trying to play down the matter by saying that only normal hotpot ingredients were served.”

Some local media had revealed that meals at the club are priced at an average of HK$3,000 per head.

The former ICAC chief investigator said there’s no doubt that the meal would be considered extravagant if it cost HK$3,000 to HK$4,000 per person, adding that he didn’t understand why security officials needed to communicate with a mainland developer.

However, pro-Beijing legislator Paul Tse said it’s time to put the issue to rest as the officials have already paid their fines and learnt a lesson.

“In a Chinese society, food trumps everything. It’s also common for people to communicate over meals,” he said, adding that he agrees with Chief Executive Carrie Lam who earlier said the officials have already apologised, and there’s no need to discuss the case further.

“Some said the food was extravagant but they didn’t know what was on the menu. They couldn’t just stand up and leave when they saw there was a piece of abalone. One must look at the dinner banquet in a more humanised way,” Lam had told a radio programme on Sunday.