Independent Commission Against Corruption (Hong Kong)

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Independent Commission Against Corruption
廉政公署
Independent Commission Against Corruption (Hong Kong) (logo).png
Agency overview
Formed 15 February 1974
Headquarters ICAC Building, 303 Java Road, North Point, Hong Kong
Employees 1,213 (June 2007)[1]
Annual budget 756.9 m HKD (2008-09)[2]
Agency executive Simon Peh, Commissioner
Website www.icac.org.hk

The Independent Commission Against Corruption (ICAC; Chinese: 廉政公署; and 總督特派廉政專員公署 before 1997) of Hong Kong was established by Governor Murray MacLehose on 15 February 1974, when Hong Kong was under British rule. Its main aim was to clean up endemic corruption in the many departments of the Hong Kong Government through law enforcement, prevention and community education.

The ICAC is independent of the Hong Kong Civil Service. The Basic Law of Hong Kong stipulates that the ICAC shall function independently and be directly accountable to the Chief Executive of Hong Kong. Previous to the transfer of sovereignty in 1997, ICAC reported directly to the Governor of Hong Kong, and appointments to the ICAC were also made directly by his office.

The ICAC is headed by a Commissioner. Since 1997, the Commissioner of the ICAC has been appointed by the State Council of the People's Republic of China, based on the recommendations of the Chief Executive of Hong Kong.

Development[edit]

ICAC former office in Admiralty, Hong Kong, used from 1978 until 2007

In the early days there were running punch-ups between ICAC officers and angry policemen who stormed their offices in Central District; this situation ended only with the announcement of a partial amnesty for minor corruptions committed before 1977. But gradually, the ICAC made itself felt and several high profile police officers were tried and convicted. Others were forced to retire. As a result of its investigations, a mass purge took place in early 1978, where it was announced that 119 officers including one customs official were asked to leave under the provisions of Colonial Regulation 55 (see footnote 1 below) to fast track the decisions in the public interest; a further 24 officers were held on conspiracy charges, 36 officers and a customs official were given amnesties.[3] The move received a mixed response from the public whilst being broadly supported by legislative councillors as being in the best interests of Hong Kong not to let the affair fester and further demoralise the police Force.[4] Urban Council member Elsie Elliot criticised the government for being lenient to senior corrupt officials, punishing only "small flies."

Research on corruption - carried out by the Anti Corruption Resource Centre - shows that police corruption in Hong Kong was frequently associated with 'illegal markets' or 'victimless crimes' such as gambling, prostitution and drugs. Thus, the decision to legalise off-course betting in Hong Kong - a previously rich source of police bribes - may plausibly have contributed to the fall in police corruption. The investigative, preventive and educational activities of the ICAC no doubt also had some impact but was not solely or even largely responsible for reducing police corruption.[5]

Constitutionality[edit]

ICAC Building in North Point
ICAC Sha Tin

In preparation for Hong Kong's reunification with China in 1997, the National People's Congress of the People's Republic of China enacted the Hong Kong Basic Law in 1990, providing for the establishment of a "Commission Against Corruption". This anti-graft agency thus exists as a constitutionally sanctioned body.

As a passing remark the name of the agency ("Independent Commission against Corruption") has been questioned as unconstitutional, as the Basic Law names it "Commission Against Corruption". However, as the Chinese version of the Basic Law prevails over the English version, this is not considered a misnomer. Another interpretation is that the Basic Law states only that such a commission has to be established without directing how it should be named.

Covert surveillance[edit]

An assistant ICAC investigator was jailed for 9 months on 4 April 2003 for lying in a court trial, to conceal the fact that he had threatened a suspect to co-operate with a probe by the Independent Commission Against Corruption (ICAC).[6] So far, this is the only case of such a nature in ICAC history.

Organization[edit]

Commissioners of the ICAC[7]

The ICAC has three divisions: Operations, Community Relations, and Corruption Prevention. The Operations department is the largest by far, has 72 percent of the staff, and is responsible for all the high-profile busts. This largest department considers itself all powerful, and has apparently resisted all attempts to interfere with its investigations. The exercise of its power has allegedly relegated the Commissioner to a figurehead role. The investigation into circulation fraud by Sally Aw at The Standard has been cited as an example of the embarrassment caused by such non-cooperation with the government hierarchy.[8]

Witness Protection and Firearms Section

ICAC maintains a small specialized unit, namely the Witness Protection and Firearms Section (R4), which carry out high risk operations (such as pursuits and conducting house raids), forced entry, witness protection and training of new recruits in basic firearms skills since 1998.

To be the member of R4, investigators have to undergo a battery of physical, written and psychometric tests, and receive a three-phase training if they are selected, which involves multiple tactics in witness protection, firearms and more.

Up to now, no shots are being fired by R4 during missions and the unit remains a good reputation.

Colonial Regulation 55[edit]

Colonial Regulation 55 was an executive provision of the highest order for which the colonial Government was not obliged to give cause. It stipulated that "An officer holds office subject to the pleasure of the Crown, and the pleasure of the Crown that he may no longer hold it may be signified through the Secretary of State, in which case no special formalities are required."[citation needed]

As a safeguard for this regulation, action must be taken by the Secretary of State for Foreign and Commonwealth Affairs in London after review by the Secretary of the Civil Service and the Attorney General for England and Wales. The highest authority would have been the Lord Chancellor.

This regulation was invoked approximately 25 times by the colonial Government up to 1978, twice of which was during the tenure of Governor MacLehose.

Henry Litton, Chairman of the Hong Kong Bar Association questioned the use of Regulation 55, when Regulations 56 and 57 (which provides for "dismissal after due enquiry" before a judge) could have been used.[9] He furthermore said " As far as I know, Colonial Regulations apply to only sovereign gazetted officers", and that "no Chinese policeman has ever been given a copy ...before signing on". Most Legislators supported the move as being under "exceptional circumstances" and "necessary".

The Colonial Regulation has been replaced by the Public Service Order after Hong Kong's transfer of sovereignty to China in 1997.

Information technology[edit]

ICAC commissioner Dr Timothy Tong Hin-ming mentioned in a report tabled in the Legislative Council the strategic importance of information technology (IT) in operations as corruption cases have become increasingly complex. The commission has stepped up staff training in financial investigation and computer forensics skills, and enhanced investigative resources especially in regard to corruption in the private sector.

In 2008, the commission organised a series of seminars to enhance the investigators' knowledge on the global and local financial system and its regulatory mechanism.

ICAC's financial investigation section probed into 7,095 financial transactions in 168 cases, involving an aggregated sum of HK$4.4 billion (US$567 million) in 2008. The commission's computer forensics section carried out 502 computer data analysis projects relating to 111 operations in which 368 computers were seized.

Weapons[edit]

Though the Operations Department members of ICAC are trained to use firearms, most of them are not armed. However, officers are required to go to the range for their continuous training and annual examination.

There are also investigators, namely the Arms Issued Officers (AIOs) of the Witness Protection and Firearms Section (R4), are solely the members who have the permit to use firearms. They are now mostly trained in the use of, and issued, the Glock 19 handguns as sidearms, though standard Glock 17 or the SIG P228 are also equipped depend on the situation.

The members of the Witness Protection and Firearms Section also carry an ASP expandable baton and a small pepper spray for less-than-lethal options for protection on the field.

Strategy[edit]

The ICAC uses a three pronged approach to combating corruption: investigation, prevention and community education.[10] The most high profile of aspect of its work has been its investigative work, however as important if not more so has been its work in prevention and education. Prevention wise the ICAC offers advice and practical help to enable companies and organisations to introduce systems and procedures that are resistant to corruption. Since its inception the ICAC has worked tirelessly to change the public's perception that bribes and kickbacks are an expected and normal part of everyday life, and to reassure citizens that if they face a demand for an illegal payment that the ICAC will be there to investigate.

ICAC in fiction[edit]

There have been several movies about the ICAC, The First Shot in 1993 and I Corrupt All Cops in 2009 that tell the history of the ICAC from the inception to how it adopted its interrogation methods.[11] A number of television series have also been made about the Commission with the ICAC Investigators family of miniseries being based on actual ICAC cases and made with the full co-operation of the ICAC as part of its community education work.

References[edit]

Order of precedence[edit]

Preceded by
Hong Kong Police
Independent Commission Against Corruption Succeeded by
Customs and Excise Department (Hong Kong)

See also[edit]

External links[edit]