Something’s Gotta Give: A Banker Weighs In on Hong Kong’s Leader

As Hong Kong’s Chief Executive Leung Chun-ying denies he did anything wrong in receiving a $6.4 million payment as part of a noncompete agreement just before he took office, a banker’s comment that Mr. Leung will face calls to step down has drawn attention.

David Eldon–the former chairman of HSBC Holdings HSBA.LN 0.00% PLC’s Asia operation who is now nonexecutive chairman of HSBC’s Middle East unit—said on his blog: “Whatever the truth in this particular matter is, I am pretty sure that it will be blown up to the extent that, legal or not, C.Y. Leung will face calls to step down.”

Mr. Eldon said in his blogpost on Thursday titled “Hong Kong: The Light, the Dark and the Long Term” that such pressure could come from Hong Kong itself as well as from Beijing. 

“President Xi Jinping has made very clear his abhorrence of corruption and if there is the slightest unpleasant smell about this, what better way than to remove an unpopular official?” Mr. Eldon wrote.

“Even if there’s no corruption, and I make no suggestion of any corruption here, the pressure may be on C.Y. to take some action,” he told The Wall Street Journal in an interview Monday.

Mr. Eldon, who has been in banking for 40 years and is a longtime resident of Hong Kong, has used his personal website for years as a platform to express his personal opinions to friends and journalists.

This time he appears to have struck a nerve.

Pro-democracy protesters display a picture of Leung Chun-ying and “hell money” on a main road in Hongkong early Monday.

Associated Press

His blog has been cited by local press in recent days. Mr. Eldon said over the last two days, there are more than 7,000 hits on the post, many more than what he normally sees.

News emerged Wednesday that Mr. Leung received £4 million ($6.4 million) payment as part of a noncompete agreement linked to the sale of a property-services firm in which he was Asia-Pacific chairman several months before he took office in 2011.

In a televised interview on Sunday, Mr. Leung denied he has done anything wrong in receiving the payment. He said he has followed the established mechanisms to declare his interests and that there was no conflict of interest.

Mr. Eldon said in the interview, “There’s a possibility, I would say a strong possibility, that the whole issue will be blown up out of proportion. If that happens, then I think there will be people, [including] lawmakers, in Hong Kong who will want to question the chief executive very closely about the payments, why they weren’t disclosed previously.”

Mr. Eldon thinks it’s time for students to put a stop to the disruptions from pro-democracy protests that are now into the third week in the financial hub.

“Our students have made their point. It is now time though for others who also have rights to be allowed to get on with their lives and make an unhindered living for their families,” he said. “Enough is enough.”

Mr. Eldon thinks the future of Hong Kong’s business environment might be at risk from the protests, adding that he has been hearing big businesses reconsidering how they see Hong Kong as a place to have exhibitions and events.

“These may sound trivial,” Mr. Eldon said. “But as these sort of things begin to gain momentum, more and more people are going to say, ‘Why should we bother?’”

“Will it impact HK as a financial center? At the moment, I don’t think it will. But something has got to happen and happen soon.”

That said, Mr. Eldon pointed out some inadvertent benefits of the traffic disruptions from the protests, saying he finds that the air has been cleaner with no traffic in central areas of the city.

“I can’t remember the last time I actually heard birds singing in Chater Gardens during the day… The lack of roadside pollution means [students] have achieved more for the environment in a week than the government has achieved in 20 years,” he said.

–Fiona Law

http://blogs.wsj.com/chinarealtime/2014/10/13/somethings-gotta-give-a-banker-weighs-in-on-hong-kongs-leader/?KEYWORDS=Hong+Kong&mg=id-wsj

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