HK probes resignation `cover up'

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The Independent Online
While Hong Kong's Governor Chris Patten is in London fortalks, the credibility of his administration back home could be severely damaged after legislators yesterday took the unusual step of launching an inquiry into the sudden departure of Lawrence Leung, the head of the colony's immigration department.

This is particularly embarrassing for the Governor because he has spearheaded the government's campaign to persuade the public that Mr Leung took early retirement for "purely personal reasons".

Yesterday the legislator Selina Chow said the government appeared to be engaged in a cover up. She used parliamentary privilege to cite allegations about Mr Leung made in a newspaper report. These stated he had been secretly passing information to the Chinese government on Chinese dissidents, and disclosing highly secret details of who had been given British passports under the British nationality scheme.

The allegations were described as "fanciful speculation" by WK Lam, the Secretary for the Civil Service. Mr Leung has previously denied allegations of wrong-doing but has now disappeared from sight. Last July he cleared his office in 24 hours after taking early retirement on a full pension. The normal practice is that senior civil servants give 12 months' notice.

However, on the eve of his departure for London Mr Patten repeated that Mr Leung had "left public service for personal reasons" and stated that his successor was an "excellent" replacement. Asked whether he would describe Mr Leung as `excellent', Mr Patten tartly replied: "I would say he worked for many years for the Hong Kong Government".

Meanwhile it emerged that Canada expressed concerns over Mr Leung's activity as head of the immigration service. Canada's worries appear to be related to the background of immigrants coming to Canada via Hong Kong. And, as long as three years ago the Governor was alerted to problems in the immigration department, which appeared to be unilaterally deciding to increase the quota for immigrants from China. In 1992, legal immigration from China totalled 28,400 people, and last year it peaked at 45,000.

The situation surrounding Mr Leung is complicated by the fact that he flaunted his good relations with China. Indeed his retirement was quickly followed by expressions of regret from Chinese officials, and an attempt by Peking to raise its concern during Sino-British talks.

This is only the second time that a committee has been established to examine the departure of a senior civil servant. The first was more than three years ago when Alex Tsui, an officer in the Independent Commission Against Corruption, was forced to leave because of his association with known criminals.