The Franklin Lam Property-Sale Mega-Scandal degenerates into a mess of confusing, complicated and – most unforgivably of all – tedious detail.
The bottom line… Did the Executive Council member have inside knowledge of government measures to cool apartment prices when he decided to sell several units in Caine Road’s Casa Bella tower? No.
That should be all we need to know. But some theatrical pro-democrats are reporting him to the Independent Commission Against Corruption anyway, and calling for him to leave Exco. Meanwhile, Chief Executive CY Leung’s other foes are making their own meal out of it.
Beijing’s local liaison office has openly encouraged an array of loyalist but anti-CY forces to support the new CE, even though they had backed tycoon Henry Tang for the job. But that doesn’t stop the March quasi-election losers leaping on every opportunity to damage him by proxy, and Lam represents the third (fourth? fifth?) of Leung’s hapless sidekicks to serve the purpose.
The ‘Mary Ma’ column in the Standard – owned by tycoon and major Henry Tang fan Charles Ho – lays out the plan of attack. So far as I can be bothered to follow the excruciating detail, it seems Lam’s supposed wrongdoing was setting a minimum price for the sale, and letting the agent keep any extra he could make from the buyer. I’ve never sold multiple units in one block, but I suppose it’s a way to incentivize, speed things up and improve your chances of getting a particular price. Inevitably, we have to have some extra confusion: whether the surplus money would go to charity (as if we care – and let’s not even stop to wonder whether real-estate agencies have their own grudges against the Leung administration). And even more inevitably, additional misunderstandings arise and are – of course – due to Lam’s wife. God forbid we ever have one of these scandals where it’s not the wife’s fault.
At which point, many right-thinking people will lose patience and suggest that we get every journalist, every legislator and every Exco member, put them all up against a wall – with their spouses – and shoot the lot. Apparently, we can’t do that, so we have to ask: what the hell has Lam actually done wrong?
The Standard’s front-page story suggests that the minimum-price arrangement could be illegal if the buyer isn’t informed. There is a vague parallel in stockbroking: naughty brokers can delay executing a trade in order to get a better price than the client asked for – and pocket the difference. In a morally perfect world, intermediaries would work solely and selflessly in the interests of clients (though how a property agent can do what is best for both buyer and seller, I’ve no idea). Lam’s sin would be inducing the agent to extract a higher price from the buyer than Lam was willing to accept. Maybe there’s a law against it, but the last I checked, Lam has not been arrested.
Bear in mind here that the anti-CY forces stirring all this up are fundamentally our own lovely and honest property developers, who know a thing or two about aggressively pricing apartments.
A closely related, almost subsidiary, group of people who hate CY are the bureaucrats, best symbolized by former CE Donald Tsang. Sir Bow-Tie’s close friend and sympathizer Albert Cheng, who also blames CY for the death of his digital radio enterprise, presents his take on the Franklin Lam saga in the South China Morning Post. It is mostly what you would expect, but toward the end ‘Taipan’ goes from innuendo to conspiracy theory…
Leung only pays lip service to the aspirations of the people to crack down on property prices, but deep down he wants to build a close network of property elites and a power base that comprises mainland property tycoons to replace the local ones.
This idea is widely believed among pro-democrats, especially radicals; they see the proposed Northeast New Territories development as a gift to mainland developers. There are two possible explanations for the theory. One is that it’s true. Weirder things have happened, and it would be in keeping with a sweep of history in which the local tycoons, having played their part for Beijing from the 1980s to the present, can now be dispensed with. No-one escapes Mainlandization. (And it couldn’t happen to a nicer bunch of guys.)
Another explanation is our old friend cognitive dissonance. Opponents struggle to explain how the new Chief Executive, a ‘bad guy’, hates and is hated by the property tycoons, another bunch of ‘bad guys’. How do you get your head around that? There’s only one way to make sense of it: he must have another bunch of property tycoons stashed away somewhere.
The weekend starts now.