Global Observer

Forget sex scandals: illegal structures rock Hong Kong politics

Forget sex scandals: illegal structures rock Hong Kong politics

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HONG KONG -- Adding a room to your house without the government's approval is illegal in Hong Kong. How political rivals try to derail campaigns by uncovering unauthorized structures.

Commonly seen illegal rooftop structures

HONG KONG — As election frenzy heats up for Hong Kong’s politicians in the running to become the city’s next leader, rival parties are sparing no efforts in casting their opponents as criminals. Criminals with illegal add-ons in their homes.

Illegal structures was an especially prevalent topic in the city last year, reported on incessantly by the media regarding the houses of the prominent officials. The attention carries a tone of criticism about the lavish lifestyles that some politicians seem to live.

In all reality, illegal structures are extremely common in Hong Kong. They include balconies sealed in to become part of a room, previously nonexistent basements and modified staircases. Restaurants and residential buildings are frequently in violation of related ordinances, but illegal structures generally do no harm.

As the March election for Hong Kong’s chief executive approaches, the media is in high gear with their hard-hitting investigative journalism, digging up the records of hopefuls’ homes and detailing the extravagances enjoyed by politicians in an entirely illegal capacity.

Henry Tang, one of three frontrunners for the top job, is the latest to be accused of harboring illegal structures. Reports claim that one of the properties owned by his wife has an unauthorized basement that contains a wine cellar, Japanese onsen-style bathtub, theater room and wine-tasting area.

Tang said he did not know about the basement when he bought the house several years ago. The easiest way for him to comply with the law would be to fill the basement in. Just another reason not to be a politician in Hong Kong.

Photo: Flickr/kevinpoh

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Vanessa Ko

Correspondent (Hong Kong)

Vanessa Ko has written for TIME, South China Morning Post and Phnom Penh Post. She holds degrees from Northwestern University and the University of Hong Kong. She is based in Hong Kong, China. Follow her on Twitter. Disclosure