It was only a regular hotpot, say sorry officials

Three top Hong Kong officials have apologised for violating social distancing rules, saying they thought a hotpot dinner they attended with several others back in March was exempt from a ban on large gatherings.

Director of Immigration Au Ka-wang, Commissioner of Customs and Excise Hermes Tang and Undersecretary for Security Sonny Au were fined by police who turned up at the dinner while investigating a separate matter.

The Security Bureau said in a statement on Friday that the three men wrongly believed that they were not subject to a cap on gatherings because they were in a private venue – reportedly a club in Wan Chai.

“There were only three SAR officials present at the dinner,” a spokesman for the bureau said.

“They were invited to attend it at a place where they were told by the host was a private premises, and therefore mistakenly believed that the venue fell outside the regulation of the prohibition on group gathering,” the spokesman said.

“As the trio’s work requires frequent communication with different sectors in the community, the dinner on that day was an ordinary social gathering”.

The spokesman added that the trio had admitted being negligent and lacking sensitivity, and had pledged to be more careful when attending future events.

Media reports suggested the meal could have cost more than HK$3,000 per head, and in a likely reference to this claim, the statement noted that the food served “consisted of normal hotpot ingredients”.

The bureau told RTHK that the host of the dinner had paid for everyone, but it doesn’t know how much the bill came to. It said being as the dinner was a social event, the officials did not need to declare it.

New People’s Party lawmaker Regina Ip said she hoped the three officials had learnt their lesson over the controversy, but they should have apologised sooner.

However, the former security chief said they had not committed a serious mistake.

“At most it was negligence because they didn’t check if the venue was a public place,” she said.

The police say it was during an investigation into a criminal case that they found out about the dinner on March 2, and nine people were fined for violating rules on group gatherings.

A man was later arrested and charged with attempted rape.

The Security Bureau said none of the three officials are connected to the criminal case.

Last updated: 2021-07-09 HKT 17:08