Another week, another quasi-mega-scandal

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.

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10 Responses to Another week, another quasi-mega-scandal

  1. Lois Beluga says:

    As John Belushi said of Nixon, the key question in such matters is always:

    “What did he know and when did he stop knowing it?”

    Hong Kong is inherently corrupt because it is so small and the gentry not only all know each other, they think corruption is just good manners.

    Hong Kong should be ruled by professional administrators from Peking. Stuff the locals. We’re part of China now.

  2. Chimp says:

    It will be amusing to see yet another CY appointee get dragged off in chains. I suspect it will be rather tough to get people to take the jobs, now.

  3. Stephen says:

    It’s utter bollox – so here’s a bollox little ditty for Friday afternoon …

    Franklin Lam wears a toupee do dah do dah
    Franklin Lam wears a wig o do dah day
    He looks like Thomas Kwok, he looks like Kevin Egan
    Franklin Lam wears a rug o do dah day.

    Weekend open ?

  4. stanley gibbons says:

    In the immortal words for Lord Denning

    “He must be guilty of something”

    Mind you, the same could be said of most of them.

  5. PropertyDeveloper says:

    I’m not sure how you can say categorically that the was unaware about the impending taxes. But what does seem clear is that the property tycoons were out to get him for daring to operate an independent operation. If previous storms in a teacup are anything to go by, this one will reach force 10, then pass leaving almost no destruction in its wake.

  6. Maugrim says:

    The Sing Tao eh? Whod’ve thought it? Not the same Sing Tao who supported Henry Tang and recently announced that the ESF will have an upgraded subsidy only to hear Eddie Ng say quite the opposite?

  7. mumphLT says:

    Lois Beluga,
    Yeah – that’ll stop all the corruption and everything will be just chipper.

  8. darovia says:

    Frankie boy is not doing himself any favours with the wifey bit. On Wednesday he was defiant but yesterday he sounded pathetic. He must have missed the memo about the old rule – ‘never change one’s story mid-scandal’.
    These pot-boilers are proof once again that democracy does not work when the opposition are bad losers – President Obama could have told him that.

  9. Joe Blow says:

    I have a close look -but not too close cuz they are a bunch of real mingers- at the political appointees and assistant sub-secretaries that have recently been appointed.

    It seems that anyone who starts a ‘think tank’ or a ‘research foundation’ or something similar, and peoples it with an assortment of wannabes, creeps, proteges, nephews, gay boyfriends, ass-lickers and so forth, is almost guaranteed to have some of them appointed at some level in ANY new government line-up. Because, fellow pond-life, Hong Kong is a small pond indeed.

  10. Lois Beluga says:


    Believe me, I much prefer the People’s Republic’s CCP to the ugly bunch who have carved up and continue to carve up Hong Kong.

    One bonus is that offenders are sometimes executed. Think of that. The Kwoks facing the bullet. Wouldn’t that get their attention.

    I never said we should do away with the courts, the pleasantly fuckwit police, the “free press” (actually owned by various stooges) and the ICAC. Armed with the threat of execution, which Deng said was a major form of education, these bodies might at last facilitate social progress in Hong Kong.

    Hong Kong ruled by Hong Kong people is like asking dogs to supervise a meat canning plant.

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