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Leung 'was not a Chinese agent'

The Hong Kong government has categorically denied that Lawrence Leung, the former director of immigration, was a Chinese agent, and that he disclosed information on dissidents or supplied details to unauthorised parties of holders of British passports, granted under the highly secret British Nationality Scheme.

These denials were made yesterday by Anson Chan, the Chief Secretary, when she appeared before a legislator's inquiry trying to get to the bottom of the reasons for Mr Leung's sudden departure last year.

The government has, however, now admitted that it was being "narrow with the truth" when it said that Mr Leung had left the service for "personal reasons". Mrs Chan emphasised yesterday that he was forced to go because his business dealings "cast serious doubt over Mr Leung's integrity, character and his suitability to remain in his post".

"We were not trying to cover up", she said, "we felt, the less publicity the better". Mrs Chan told the legislators that their inquiry was damaging the "morale and image of the Immigration Department" and urged them to close it as soon as possible.

Legislators insisted yesterday that they were still not satisfied they had been told the full story behind Mr Leung's departure.

Mrs Chan added to the shroud of secrecy by insisting that most of her evidence was given in camera and that two reports made by the police and the anti-corruption agency, should only be given to members of the inquiry on condition that their contents remained secret.

After reading these reports the inquiry's chairman, Ip Kwok-him, said he was "shocked". On being reminded that committee members were not supposed to comment on the substance of the inquiry, Mr Ip hastily said that he meant he was shocked that the government was not prepared to make these documents available earlier.

The Leung scandal has been casting a heavy shadow over Governor Chris Patten's claims to be running an honest and open administration.

At times the government has suggested that it has given full answers to all the questions raised, while at other times it has suggested that interest in the affair has been blown out of proportion.

Yesterday Mrs Chan made it clear that the fate of Mr Leung was of considerable public interest because he held a post "responsible for a range of sensitive issues that could affect every man, woman and child in Hong Kong, as well as overseas visitors".