HONG KONG — Hong Kong's corruption watchdog has launched a criminal investigation of its former chief following complaints of excessive spending when giving tens of thousands of dollars in gifts to mainland Chinese and other officials.
The Asian financial center's anticorruption agency and Department of Justice said Tuesday there was "sufficient basis" to open an investigation into allegations of possible bribery and misconduct by Timothy Tong.
Tong was commissioner of the Independent Commission Against Corruption from 2007 to 2012. Following inquiries by lawmakers, the agency reported that he spent about 218,500 Hong Kong dollars ($28,150) on gifts during his time in office. They ranged from pens and mugs to crystal models of the agency's headquarters.
One item worth HK$4,140 ($533) and described simply as an "ornament" was given to the Supreme People's Procuratorate, mainland China's chief prosecution and investigation agency, while the president of the International Association of Anti-Corruption Authorities received a HK$2,082 ($268) scarf.
The investigation adds to fears about the integrity of public officials in the special administrative region of China, which prides itself on clean government. The former British colony returned to Chinese control in 1997 but was granted a high degree of autonomy and kept its own legal and financial system.
Tong is the latest high-profile figure to be ensnared in a corruption case. Last year, the corruption watchdog investigated the city's outgoing leader, Donald Tsang, over allegations he received yacht and private jet trips and a luxury apartment rental for his impending retirement from wealthy friends. In a separate case, authorities have charged Rafael Hui, formerly the second highest ranking government official, in a corruption case that involves the Kwok brothers, who are billionaire property developers.
The investigation into Tong will be led by the corruption agency's current chief, Simon Peh. The Department of Justice said it has not yet decided whether Tong should be prosecuted.
Tong is expected to appear at a hearing before the legislature's public accounts committee on Saturday to discuss concerns raised in an audit report.
ICAC spending report: http://bit.ly/14lXncS
Follow Kelvin Chan at twitter.com/chanman.