In the first signal that the incumbent leader of Hong Kong will run for the office again next year, Chief Executive Leung Chun-ying (aka CY Leung) has issued a legal letter threatening to sue Hong Kong media outlet Apple Daily.
In the letter released by Apple Daily on their website yesterday, Leung complains that the paper made malicious allegations of corruption and cronyism in a recent editorial piece, with the intention of harming his chances of reelection in 2017. His lawyers wrote: “The false corruption allegation to prevent Mr. CY Leung from exercising his constitutional right to stand for the re-election … if he chooses to, demonstrates the very serious kind of malicious and injurious motive.”
The letter demands for the words to be withdrawn and that no further similar allegations be published against him. The letter also objects to Leung’s popular, if somewhat disdainful, public nicknames, including “Wolf Ying,” “Liar Ying,” and “689,” which refers to the number of votes Leung received from the 1,200 member election committee that put him into power.
The editorial article calls for the Legislative Council to invoke special powers to pursue Leung over a HK$50 million (US$6.5 million) payment he received from Australian firm UGL before he took office in 2012. The payments relate to an agreement he had signed on December 2, 2011, which entitled him to payment from UGL in exchange for his support of the acquisition of DTZ group, for not competing with UGL post-acquisition, and for providing advisory services for a period of two years following the sale.
UGL maintains that the payments were industry standard and largely structured by the vendors of the business. The Australian engineering firm would later sell DTZ for AU$1.215 billion (US$1.1 billion), or roughly 10.2 times the acquisition price.
Since these payments were first uncovered, Australian Senator Christine Milne has requested the Australian Federal Police to look into whether the payments constituted a breach of Australian bribery laws. Hong Kong’s Independent Commission Against Corruption (ICAC) also launched an investigation into the matter. Leung did no favors for his credibility when his government was rumored to have a hand in demoting the lead investigator on the case, acting ICAC Head of Operations Rebecca Li Bo-lan, who would subsequently resign. The ICAC investigations are ongoing.
Apple Daily has been vocal in its disapproval of Leung since his election in 2012. Chief Editor Chan Pui-man said it was common for Leung to send such letters to editors, and that it made no sense since Leung has not indicated his intention to run for office again.
The Hong Kong Journalists Association has issued a Chinese language statement expressing shock and saying that Leung’s legal letter has a chilling effect and aims to stifle press freedom. This is not the first time Leung has issued legal letters to media outlets, In 2015, again on the back of the UGL payments scandal, Leung’s lawyers issued another warning letter to Fairfax Media, the owner of the Sydney Morning Herald. In 2013 Hong Kong Economic Journal received a warning letter regarding an article that linked Leung with Hong Kong’s criminal triad organizations.
Leung’s position as chief executive and his lack of popularity makes him an exemplar of why the preselection of electoral candidates, as championed by Beijing, does not work in Hong Kong. The combined effects of China’s authoritarian meddling in Hong Kong’s democratic affairs, including the silencing of media, and Leung’s willingness to acquiesce to their methods, puts him and the central government at odds with the Hong Kong public.