‘Hotpot trio sacrificed family time to join dinner’

Security minister Chris Tang on Wednesday offered a new defence for three senior officials who violated social distancing rules by attending a dinner at an exclusive private club in March, saying the trio had sacrificed precious time with their families to do their jobs.

It was revealed last week 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.

Speaking to reporters at the Legislative Council, Tang brought the issue up himself, saying he had personally looked into the dinner, and found that no conflict of interest was involved, nor did the top officials make any commitments to those who attended the event.

He added that by going to the dinner, the three essentially gave up precious time with their loved ones for work.

“As officials we have to keep in contact with different sectors, of different nature. It’s because when we’re formulating our strategies and our work, we have to know what the society is thinking,” Tang said, while saying the ongoing probe into the attempted rape case had no impact on the government’s reputation.

“[The criminal case] is what happened after the dinner. I don’t think any officials will have any idea that someone sitting among the table will be committing an offence.”

Tang stressed the issue should be put to bed, as the three men have already paid a price.

However, the minister refused to say whether mainland government officials were present at the posh dinner, citing privacy concerns and ongoing criminal proceedings.

On Monday, former ICAC chief investigator Stephen Char called for an in-depth probe into the case, saying it was unreasonable and unacceptable for the officials to claim they had no idea how much the meal had cost at the exclusive club.

Char, who’s also a barrister, also questioned why security officials needed to communicate with a mainland developer.