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Security Faction In-fighting Rages on, Scandalous Revelations Vie for Supremacy


This is translated from CitizenNews' weekly digest tracking Hong Kong's political news over the past week. (一周政情:保安派系內鬥激烈 醜聞爆料爭奪上位

In the past week, the most prominent political news was the revelation that three senior security officials (Director of Immigration Au Ka-wang, Commissioner of Customs and Excise Hermes Tang Yee-hoi and Deputy Secretary for Security Sonny Au Chi-kwong) had attended a lavish dinner party hosted by Evergrande in early March and were accused of violating the gathering restriction order. The incident, which came to light on the evening of 7 July after a source broke the story to Stand News, reminded the public of the visit by the head of the National Security Division of the Police, Frederic Choi Chin-pang, in March, at an unlicensed massage parlour; the premise was accused to be involved in prostitution, and the visit came to light after a media report in May. Before and after the promotion of John Lee, a former police officer, to the post of Chief Secretary, a series of scandals involving senior officials of the security system were exposed. The struggle for power within the security system has been fierce, with senior members of the Police Force, the Immigration Department and the Customs and Excise Department all "suffering injuries" thus far.

Comparing the two scandals, though there are many similarities, there remained important differences in the subtleties, and the political implications are noteworthy. Key analysis is as follows:

(1) Both scandals took place in March this year. When the incident involving Frederic Choi was first exposed by the South China Morning Post in the early hours of 12 May, the source did not disclose the exact date, saying that it happened about a month ago, which made people think that it happened in April. It was only later that it was revealed that Deputy Secretary for Security Sonny Au, a former police officer, was also present at the dinner, and HK01 reported that the dinner was held on 2 March. In other words, in March this year, there were two cases involving senior officials of the security system, and all of them were directorate officers.

(2) The response of the police, the Immigration Department, the Customs and Excise Department and other disciplinary forces to the revelation of the two cases was drip-feeding, trying by all means to play it down, which is a far cry from telling the whole story. Obviously, the disciplined services would not have taken the initiative to disclose these two scandals if no one had broken the news to the media. It was only when the news came to light and the disciplined forces were forced to do so, that they vaguely admitted it and then tried to explain it away. In other words, the fact that informed insiders took the initiative to break the news to the media was the key to the exposure of the two incidents, unlike the media's initiative in investigating and uncovering the misconduct of officials. Therefore, the identity and motive of the whistle-blower is an important clue to the interpretation of the incident, and naturally determined by the target of the political blow and who will gain from it.

(3) The top brass of the Police Force, led by Chris Tang, was the hardest hit by the revelation of the Frederic Choi incident for two reasons. For one, Choi was one of the candidates being groomed within the Police Force to take over as Commissioner, and he was also the head of the National Security Division of the Police Force, which is highly valued by the Central Government. Choi was also caught red-handed on the spot during a police patrol, bringing disgrace to the force at best and committing misconduct in public office at worst. The police force had to suspend Choi from duty for investigation after the incident came to light, and then handed the case over to the Department of Justice to consider how to deal with the matter. The incident has left Frederic Choi's career in tatters, and Chris Tang is inevitably blamed by the Central Government. Moreover, the whistle-blower chose to detonate this "heavy bomb" in mid-May, at a sensitive time when the Central Government and the top echelons of the SAR Government were mulling over the selection of the Chief Secretary for Administration. The revelation was a serious blow to security officials with a police background. With the benefit of hindsight, the fact that Chris Tang was still promoted to the position of Secretary for Security after this surprise attack is a sign that he has a solid political backing and good luck.

(4) The two heads of department, one in charge of the Immigration Department and the other in charge of the Customs and Excise Department, were the hardest hit by the revelation of the dinner party. Usually officials who finished the office as the Director of Immigration will be promoted to a higher rank. For example, Ambrose Lee and Lai Tung-kwok were both promoted to the post of Secretary for Security, Eric Chan became the Director of Chief Executive's Office, and Erick Tsang Kwok-wai became the Secretary for Constitutional and Mainland Affairs, and is rumoured to be the future Chief Secretary. As for the Commissioner of Customs and Excise, Hermes Tang is rumoured to take over as Commissioner of the ICAC. In other words, the two protagonists of the dinner party, Au and Tang, still have a promising future in politics. After this blow, their political futures remain afloat though now they have been tarnished.

Individual members of the pro-Beijing camp have also questioned Au and Tang’s lack of political acumen in accepting lavish hospitality from a mainland property developer. If there is anyone in the security system who is happy about this, it must be someone from the Police Force. The announcement in late June that senior officials have been promoted to the post of Chief Secretary, former Deputy Commissioner of Police John Lee, and Commissioner of Police Chris Tang took over as Secretary for Security, has established a political landscape in the security system dominated by officers in the Police Force. In early July, it was revealed that both heads of Immigration Department and Customs and Excise Department were involved in a dinner where a man was involved in a rape scandal attended, and that the police had inadvertently revealed that these people breached the gathering restriction during a rape investigation. The police were happy to see the media exposure several months later, leaving the other two departments in disgrace.

(5) When Ming Pao reported on the dinner between the three senior officials and the senior management of Evergrande, it said that the newspaper had asked the then Secretary for Security, John Lee, and the Commissioner of Police, Chris Tang, whether they had also been invited to the dinner. This report confirms the rumours in the political arena that the invitation to the dinner arranged by Evergrande Real Estate included the Secretary for Security and the Commissioner of Police, but John Lee did not go and was instead represented by Under Secretary Sonny Au. Chris Tang, who has been a fan of dinner banquets, did not attend for unknown reasons and escaped unscathed from this saga. According to HK01, the dinner was held on the evening of 2 March at Ji Xiang Hui, an upscale private club in Wan Chai, with pricey hotpot ingredients involving at least $3,000 per head, not to mention spirits ordered or brought. Chen Fen, who took up the second most important post in Evergrande, also attended the dinner. On 4 March, he was arrested at the Evergrande office for sexually assaulting a female in the dinner at a private residence in Happy Valley. Some government officers wondered whether the police would have issued tickets if Tang had been invited to the dinner party and the police officers found out that the Commissioner was also present during their investigation. Would news of this dinner party have been leaked? 

In the light of these two incidents, although the current trend is top brass becoming the darlings and AOs being sidelined, there are different factions in the civil service. There is also fierce competition between the Police and the Immigration Department for political appointments. After these two revelations, it is believed that the relationship between the factions will become even more tense, and it is expected that similar revelations and smears will continue to unfold in the future.


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