‘…And the fat trees of the forest have hid a thousand crimes’

Many, many years ago, the US Senate established a Select Committee on Presidential Campaign Activities. Over several months in 1973, the inquiry found that President Richard Nixon’s aides had used various illegal methods to – in effect – cheat in his re-election bid in 1972. The thing became a live TV attraction as more and more lurid details were uncovered. Eventually, dozens of people were convicted of burglary, conspiracy and other crimes, and Nixon resigned after the House of Representatives started the process of impeaching him. The perverse thing about it all was that he would have won by a landslide anyway without breaking the law (only one state voted for McGovern, prompting ‘Don’t blame me, I’m from Massachusetts’ bumper stickers).

Now, Hong Kong is to get its own Watergate hearings as Chief Executive CY Leung agrees to face Legislative Council questioning over the infamous unauthorized building works at his home on the Peak. The House Committee’s questioning will probably not dwell on the illicit car port roof and garden trellis as such. Lots of people’s homes have such features; it is not a crime, but a side-effect of absurd building codes; there is no victim. Instead, lawmakers will (or should) want to know two things.

First, whether CY was aware that he had illegal structures of his own when, during the CE campaign at the beginning of this year, he leapt on his opponent Henry Tang for having an enormous, illicit luxury basement in his home. This would of course be hypocrisy, which would in turn make it stupidity, even allowing for the fact that there is no comparison between Henry’s basement, which possibly involves criminal offences, and the Leungs’ home improvements, which would probably not need permission in most sane jurisdictions.

Second, whether CY subsequently lied about knowing that his property had these UBWs. To his pro-dem opponents, if the first is true, the second must also be, and Leung is therefore a scoundrel of the first order, not to be trusted – in addition to being a closet Communist Party member – and not fit to be in office. Their position is that any falsehood about any subject is equally evil: number of socks in drawer, existence of garden ornament, child molestation, cannibalism – all the same. CY’s pro-tycoon detractors will be enjoying the show and possibly fantasizing about Long Hair bringing him down and Beijing putting a developer-worshiping dimwit in his place.

Two examples of CY’s behaviour should give us a hint: the blitheness with which he assured the public that he had no UBW issues, and the keenness with which he attacked Henry over the luxury basement. This suggests either that he is extremely reckless, gambling on not getting caught red-handed at a time of great mud-slinging and media muckraking, or that he was genuinely oblivious about the status of his trellis and car port roof – indeed, probably never even thought about them at all. If I had a trellis, I wouldn’t think about it much. (Maybe I do have one…)

It would be amusing if he were to answer what could be some seriously inane questions (‘on what date did you become aware that your trellis did not conform to Building Department regulations?’) with references to things that matter (‘that might have been the day I asked Christine Loh about ways to reduce the damage pollution is doing to children’s health, or maybe it was the day I met with advisors to discuss options for boosting welfare for the elderly’). Sadly, we are more likely to get hand-wringing contrition and humility for the sake of harmony and consensus. Beijing officials may well see this as an opportunity to allow pro-Henry elements to take a bit of revenge on CY as a reward for henceforth toeing the line. They will certainly want to make sure that the questioning doesn’t uncover anything about the Liaison Office’s murky role in the quasi-election.

Meanwhile, spurred on by legislator Emily Lau’s outraged screeching, pro-democracy lawmakers with a sense of 1970s drama are earnestly preparing impeachment charges. The roadside air pollution index today is ‘High’.


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22 Responses to ‘…And the fat trees of the forest have hid a thousand crimes’

  1. Sir Crispin says:

    This city declines a little further into irrelevancy.

  2. Lois Beluga says:

    There’s no limit to the spitefulness of these sad little people in Hong Kong, is there?

    All their petty resentments build up and just explode like zits against the mirror.

    It reminds me of an incident recently. I told a minibus driver off for speaking on his mobile phone (with his hand on the phone to his ear) whilst he was driving. He then spitefully drove at 10-15 miles per hour from Stanley to Wanchai, just to show me. Of course, no one complained.

    There is no end to the sour ill-will in Hong Kong. Press it and it bubbles to the surface.

    Could it be that these people have to actually work for their living now that Mainlanders can be so readily imported who are industrious, knowledgeable, energetic and comparatively well-adjusted?

    Discuss the disgust. It’s psychological, not sociological or political. It’s also certainly mystical, pathological and an absolute taboo at present – thus ready for your probing!

  3. Maugrim says:

    I’m sorry Hemmers, this goes beyond a simple trellis. Creating an enlarged room by knocking down walls to build a basement, at what point when he was castigating Tang could he forget a detail like that? The man’s a fool.

  4. PropertyDeveloper says:

    Are you too soft on CY? Through lack of knowledge of the practicalities of property ownership?

    The walled-off basement alone is worth a cool $12m — a figure most people can only dream of owning. As a professional surveyor, he must know that building, hiding, part-demolishing, temporarily removing, lieing, ignoring, temporising, and, as Lois acutely points out, needling and attacking any gainsayers are standard behavior.

    Because CY is a China appointee, and because we have no way of deciding who governs us, it is entirely legitimate to follow Emily and the democrats in being systematically critical, and even latching onto the few ways of getting at him. Of course the danger is that China may tighten the thumbscrews, but in these systemic questions we have to trust the people’s instinct.

  5. Real Tax Payer says:

    A good piece by Hemmers today

    But also an equally sensible quote from Alex Lo ( SCMP ) today under the by-line “CY should take the flak, but let’s move on”

    “Morally, the pan-dems can claim the high ground and Leung deserves to take it all on the chin. Leung was elected as the dark horse in the chief executive race partly because of the inept way Henry Tang Ying-yen had handled the media exposé of illegal structures at his home, and Leung capitalised on it.

    But what is the end game for the pan-dems? When is the public interest no longer served? Where should we draw the line?

    Leung should answer as honestly and forthrightly as possible before Legco, and accept the public humiliation with humility. After that, we should move on to attend to far greater problems facing Hong Kong today.

    There is, of course, no chance of that happening – not when the pan-dems are running the show.”

    I just wonder what the pro -dems would have done if Tang had won

    Methinks I smell sour grapes

  6. Mary Hinge says:

    “Two examples of CY’s behaviour should give us a hint …”

    And one aspect of his persona [curiously not mentioned in the blog]: this man is a qualified professional surveyor with years of experience in the property sector.

  7. Tiu Fu Fong says:

    One wonders why you remain here, LB, so full of contempt for the locals. Is it an acute case of FILTHK?

  8. Joe Blow says:

    Hemlock loves (fellow property owner) CY. And it is beginning to cloud his judgment and impartiality.

  9. Quality of Life says:

    Maybe he’ll give his answers in Mandarin, just for the in-your-face pleasure of it.

  10. Tiu Fu Fong says:

    Mary Hinge – I was a professional qualified lawyer in a former life. How often do I read the full terms of non-critical agreements I sign in my personal life? Very rarely.

  11. Kenny says:

    CY lives in Government House which was re-modelled by the Japanese in WW2.

    Surely these qualify as Unauthorised Building Works?


  12. Lois Beluga says:


    No, it’s a case of Failed In Hong Kong, Never Tried London!

    How is your nausea today?

  13. Lionel Hampton says:

    So farewell then Dave Brubeck
    You passed away
    From heart failure
    On your way
    To a cardiology appointment.
    Now that’s what I call
    Take Five.

  14. Stephen says:

    I don’t think anyone “likes” CY. The farcical “election” was preordained but it fell apart spectacularly and of the two candidates I and a number of others thought then and now CY was the best candidate. In an open election I can think of a number of others that I would prefer.

    Yes he’s fucked up and probably been economical with the truth but China is going to remove him over this? – No! Half a million on the the streets and it still took them 2 years to get rid of CH Tung. So the point of this sideshow is?

    I would like to see our legislators concentrating on old age allowance, The MPF con, sky high property prices, poisonous air, suitability of the USD peg, democratic reform, Government / Developer collusion but no let’s have this pointless farce instead.

    Good old Hong Kong – same old same old …

  15. Mary Hinge says:

    TFF – I can only speculate that your former life came to an end because you spect too much time comparing apples to oranges.

  16. Mary Hinge says:


  17. Cerebos says:

    For a city that does to me at least seem surprisingly well endowed with stocks of petty spite and misguided covetousness, I’m surprised more people don’t resort to dobbing each other in to the lands department. All it takes is one call to dump your neighbor in the proverbial. And then it occurred to me – by accident we have developed the first form of civilian mutually assured destruction. That one call would trigger an avalanche that would take everyone down with it. Except nobody dies and as enforcing the law has already become near impossible, the outcome is as close as we’ll get to home improvement tabula rasa.

    Who wants to be first?

  18. Walter De Havilland says:

    Lets suppose CY falls, are the democratics ready to to take over? No, because they spend their time arguing amongst themselves. I’ll take benevolent dictatorship any day over the screeching of Emily ‘fish market’ LAU.

  19. Real Tax Payer says:

    @ Walter DH

    I agree

    The pro- dems couldn’t organize a booze-up in a beer factory

  20. Sojourner says:

    “I’ll take benevolent dictatorship any day over the screeching of …”

    Thus spake Mussolini on the March to Rome. I do love the fascist mindset, so prevalent as it is amongst a sizable proportion of the expat community.

  21. Vile says:

    People who like to fantasize about becoming benevolent dictators often feel the need to pretend that actual dictators are benevolent.

  22. timlett says:

    Come off it, Hem. It’s not the trellis that’s the problem, it’s the lies. We have been told there were no structures, then there were structures left by a previous occupant, then there were structures by CY but they had been removed… and now it seems there are stilll ten. Latest limp excuse – he never had a problem before so he doesnt know about illlegal structures – also turned out to be a work of fiction. People take their leaders as they find them: a man who will lie about trivia will not be trusted on the big stuff.

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