Bertrand de Speville, former head of Hong Kong’s Independent Commission Against Corruption, dies aged 78

Brian Wong

Bertrand de Speville, the former chief of Hong Kong’s anti-corruption agency, has died aged 78.

The prosecutor turned graft-buster led the Independent Commission Against Corruption (ICAC) between 1993 and 1996. After stepping down, he set up his own anti-corruption consultancy in England, and advised more than 50 countries on policies and initiatives to combat graft.

Announcing the news of de Speville’s death on Tuesday, ICAC commissioner Simon Peh Yun-lu said the agency had heard of its former leader’s death “with great sadness”.

“On behalf of all ICAC colleagues, I would like to express our deepest condolences to his family,” he added.

Exterior of ICAC headquarters in North Point, Hong Kong in 2016. Photo: Felix Wong

The Post learned that de Speville had died a few days ago in his native Britain.

Peh praised the former chief for leading the commission to successfully detecting a number of sophisticated and transnational corruption cases during a challenging time.

He also credited de Speville with forging closer ties with anti-corruption authorities in mainland China before Hong Kong’s handover in 1997.

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“Colleagues who had worked with Mr de Speville will fondly remember him as a determined leader with vision,” he added, calling his predecessor “a fine gentleman”.

Peh’s statement did not detail the circumstances of de Speville’s death.

De Speville fell under the media spotlight in his first year as ICAC chief, when he sacked a top investigator, triggering an investigation by the Legislative Council.

The ICAC had successfully apprehended members of a cross-border syndicate which had offered HK$33 million (US$4 million) in bribes to a local tobacco company to smuggle cigarettes worth more than HK$850 million.

Simon Peh Yun-lu, current Independent Commission Against Corruption (ICAC) commissioner, in 2018. Photo: Xiaomei Chen

The Post reported at the time that de Speville sacked Alex Tsui Ka-kit, then deputy director of operations, because the latter failed to declare his association with a man under investigation over the smuggling case.

Neither de Speville nor the ICAC ever made the reasons public, but a year-long, closed-door Legco investigation concluded the dismissal was reasonable.

Lawmaker James To Kun-sun, who initiated the probe into Tsui's dismissal at the time, said de Speville was “a good commissioner” who was decisive in firing Tsui.

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To also praised de Speville for his contributions after retirement. “He brought his anti-graft experience to foreign countries and helped promote a civilised society,” he said.

Tsui described de Speville as “a gentleman” who concealed his true self from others.

But he also accused de Speville of hiding the truth from the Legco investigation, insisting his dismissal was politically driven.

Ricky Chu Man-kin, a former ICAC chief investigator, spoke of de Speville as a kind boss.

“Bertie was a real gentleman,” he said. “He always talked and acted elegantly, nicely and was friendly.”

Chu recalled an incident in 1989, when de Speville stopped in Kuala Lumper on his way to London for holiday to see Chu and other members involved in a fraud investigation in the Malaysian capital.

“All of us were deeply moved by Bertie, who was our big boss, and felt honoured by his kindness,” Chu said.

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