Thursday, November 28, 2013, 07:43
Henry Tang’s wife fined HK$110,000 for illegal basement
By Kahon Chan in Hong Kong

Lisa Kuo Yu-chin — the wife of former chief secretary for administration Henry Tang Ying-yen — was fined HK$110,000 on Wednesday for commissioning the construction of a massive basement at their Kowloon Tong mansion without government approval.

“It’s a big sigh of relief for us now that the whole episode is over,” Tang said outside Kowloon City Magistrates’ Court on Wednesday after sentencing. He had transferred ownership of the mansion to his wife in 2010 and was not charged in connection with the case, but had always accompanied Kuo to court.

Tang resigned from the No 2 post in the government in late 2011 to run for Chief Executive against Leung Chun-ying, but lost the election after media reports on the illegal structure unleashed a publicity campaign against him.

Asked whether his bid for the top job had contributed to his wife’s plight, Tang said: “I had delivered a big blow and brought distress to my family.” Kuo did not speak to the press as she walked away from the court hand holding her husband’s hand.

Kuo had earlier pleaded guilty and, at the hearing on Wednesday, the prosecution agreed to withdraw a disputed section in the summary of facts that suggested she had played a part in replacing a structural engineer who cast doubts over the basement plan.

Buildings Department inspectors located the basement, which reportedly housed a private salon and an empty wine cellar, and accounted for 70 percent of the entire floor area approved for the plot at 7 York Road. Remedial works had been carried out to seal it off in March this year.

In mitigation, Kuo’s lawyer said his client’s intention was merely to provide comfort for her husband and she was extremely remorseful for what she had done. Furthermore, the extensive media coverage had been intrusive and taken a toll on her.

Passing sentence, Magistrate See Ping-hon noted that the unauthorized structure was substantial and hard to notice, and Kuo had no one else to blame for her stress.

However, the magistrate said the basement posed no safety hazards and restoration was completed several months earlier. By pleading guilty, Kuo had also saved the court’s time, he said.

Kuo was ordered to pay a basic fine of HK$50,000, plus HK$500 for each working day on the construction of the basement, which added up to HK$110,000. Tang described the fine as stiff, given that the heaviest penalty meted out for such an offense in the past decade was only HK$15,000.

 The architect, structural engineer and contractor for the project had denied the charges, and will face trial before another magistrate. Their lawyers have expressed concern over the implications of changes made to Kuo’s summary of facts.