Tuesday, 23 January 2018

The Justice Minister with Illegal Structures

New Justice Minster Teresa Cheng watches as her boss Carrie Lam walks by
On January 6, Hong Kong got a new Secretary for Justice Teresa Cheng Yeuk-wah, but since she was sworn in she has been embroiled in a huge scandal involving illegal structures in her properties. Yes more than one.

She used to work in the private sector and has bought a house in Tuen Mun, and other properties in Sha Tin and Repulse Bay.

When she bought them, she knew there were illegal structures on them -- the Repulse Bay one purchased as early as last September. She must have had an inkling then she would get the job as the government's top legal eagle.

Cheng's home is on the left, her husband's on the right
Surely she should have known this would be a huge potential problem for Chief Executive Carrie Cheng Lam Yuet-ngor's administration?

Did she not follow the fiasco Henry Tang Ying-yen went through in 2012?

It has been reported that in general some luxury homes in Hong Kong have illegal structures because land is so expensive the owners want to make the most out of it by carving out as much livable space as possible.

And because it takes so long to get a permit or approval from the authorities, and if they are found out, the punishments pretty much add up to a slap on the wrist that owners are willing to take the risk to go ahead with the renovations.

If that wasn't enough, Cheng bought the Repulse Bay flat for HK$62 million -- claiming she was a first-time home buyer (the other two were bought through her companies) -- so that she only had to pay a stamp duty of HK$2.635 million instead of HK$9.3 million.

Cheng's third-floor flat in Repulse Bay she bought for HK$62M
One can imagine Hong Kong people are fuming to hear how much Cheng owns, let alone having homes with illegal structures on them when she's the chief justice secretary.

And now there are grumblings in the pro-Beijing camp that it's getting harder and harder for them to support Chief Executive Lam's decision to choose Cheng to replace Rimsky Yuen Kwok-keung

Maybe Cheng didn't really want to do the job, knowing this would happen. But did she know this scandal would be dragging Lam's administration's credibility down too?

Cheng hasn't said much except to apologize many times for the "inconvenience and concern caused in the community".

Sounds like she too is overwhelmed by the barrage of coverage. But if she was politically smart enough, she would have sold or attempted to sell her properties before starting her new job.

But perhaps the super wealthy don't seem to think rules apply to them, or they think they won't get caught...

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