It's all my fault!

Top News | Eddie Luk and Phila Siu 17 Feb 2012

The wife of embattled chief executive candidate Henry Tang Ying-yen spilled tears of regret last night as she spoke about being responsible for an underground facility at their Kowloon Tong home that has landed her husband in trouble.

She had overseen the construction, said Lisa Kuo Yu-chin, explaining that she had been trying to provide a comfortable and happy living environment for her family.

"I have never imagined that the building work would cause such adverse impacts, and I deeply regret what has happened," she said, weeping.

Kuo also said she hopes people do not start thinking her husband is a bad person and that he's anything less than entirely dedicated to public service.

Tang himself was also offering apologies for failing to deal with the basement issue and for not properly addressing the furor it caused.

But he rejected increasing calls to halt his bid to become chief executive.

Offering an explanation after Buildings Department officials completed a preliminary inspection of 7 York Road, Tang said the illegal basement was built in 2007 and was the idea of wife Lisa, who owns the property.

Tang had "realized that there was an illegal underground basement in my residence."

"However, I failed to handle the issue promptly because we were having marital problems at the time and had difficulty communicating."

Tang said the construction work began in 2007 after the Buildings Department issued an occupation permit.

But he refused to disclose whether the basement had been fitted with a gym, a wine-tasting room, a Japanese- style bathroom, a mini theater and other facilities.

Tang also denied he had earlier lied about the illegal facility, saying his comments about the basement may have been confusing because he wanted to protect his wife.

Tang then said he was staying in the race for chief executive and hopes he will have the opportunity to fulfil his wish to serve Hong Kong.

The controversy picked up steam on Wednesday when a newspaper published a floor plan and photos that, it claimed, showed an illegal basement with a total floor size of 2,400 square feet. That would be larger than the 2,217-sq-ft footprint of the house itself.

Six Buildings Department surveyors conducted a four-hour inspection of the luxury family residences at 5A as well as 7 York Road.

They managed to enter the premises late in the afternoon after earlier being delayed by a throng of journalists and protesters.

Hours later they confirmed there was an unauthorized basement underneath the garage, measuring around 2,200 square feet and split into several smaller rooms.

The surveyors said later they had found illegal structures at both houses - features that did not match sketches Tang submitted to the Buildings Department. But the structures are safe, senior building surveyor Ko Kiu-kin said.

Ko also said the underground basement, which has several rooms, is 19 meters long, 11m wide and has a height of 3.5m. It connects with a car park, he said, but he kept his description brief.

The inspectors also found other illegal parts to the two houses - windows on the roof of No 7 and a roof over the car park on 5A.

When department officers visited the house on February 2, 2007, no illegal structures were found and the basement was not there. So the occupation permit was issued.

Ko refused to say if building the illegal structure was a criminal offense but said if it was then there could be a penalty of up to one year in prison and a fine of HK$200,000.

A warning letter would be issued, he added, but there are no plans for a demolition order.

If the owner continues to breach the law despite the warning letter he or she faces a fine of HK$20,000 a day.

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