Lawmaker under fire over airport security incident

Lawmaker Ma Fung-kwok has been accused of flaunting his status and pressuring airport security staff into allowing him to carry a liquid onboard an aircraft in violation of rules. Photo: HKEJLawmaker Ma Fung-kwok has been accused of flaunting his status and pressuring airport security staff into allowing him to carry a liquid onboard an aircraft in violation of rules. Photo: HKEJ

A pro-establishment lawmaker is facing questions after he allegedly pressured airport security staff and broke rules in relation to liquids in carry-on baggage in an incident earlier this week.

Ma Fung-kwok, who represents the functional constituency of sports, performing arts, culture and publication, has been accused of flaunting his status as a lawmaker and his connections with the Airport Authority (AA) chief in order to bypass rules related to prohibited items in cabin luggage.

Ma admitted Thursday that he should not have given airport security staff a hard time, but denied that he deliberately brought up his links with the AA boss in exchanges with baggage screening staff.

On Monday, Ma found himself in an argument with security staff at the Hong Kong airport after officers objected to him carrying a 200-milliliter tube of hair gel in his hand baggage. 

Security staff pointed out that the liquid was beyond the permissible limit and that it can’t be carried onboard the aircraft. The lawmaker was told to either put it along with his checked luggage or discard it.

Ma was preparing to take a flight to Beijing and passing through the airport security check when the incident took place.

Refusing to choose between the two options as instructed, Ma allegedly pressured the staff into allowing him to take the tube on board by identifying himself as a lawmaker, according to Apple Daily, which broke the story on Thursday.

In addition, Ma reportedly claimed that he is acquainted with Fred Lam Tin-fuk, chief executive of AA, the agency which runs the airport.

Following Ma’s words, the security personnel are said to have yielded to the pressure and allowed the lawmaker to pass through with the hair-gel bottle still inside his cabin bag.

Questioned by the media over the incident, Ma first claimed he just tried to “argue strongly on just grounds”, saying he might have possibly mentioned to the staff that he is a lawmaker.

He rejected accusations that he had abused his position, and also denied allegations that he intentionally misused the AA chief’s name to have rules bypassed for him.

Moreover, he suggested that the hair-gel tube he had been carrying was almost used up and that it was actually within the allowed limit for carry-on liquids. 

Claiming that he just tried to argue with the officer due to wrong perception of the rule, Ma said he brought up Lam’s name only to respond to the officer who said he was the most senior ranking there.

He stressed he did not intend to request to see Lam or pressure the officer whatsoever.

However, in a statement Thursday evening, Ma softened his tone, saying that he is willing to offer an apology to the airport security staff if he had caused inconvenience the staff.

He also said that he will be more careful in future with regard to rules pertaining to onboard items.

Under the rules of the Civil Aviation Department (CAD), all liquids, gels, aerosols in cabin baggage have to be carried in containers with a capacity not greater than 100 ml. In addition, liquids, gels, aerosols carried in containers larger than 100 ml will not be accepted, even if the container is only part-filled.

Confirming Monday’s incident, the Aviation Security Co. Ltd. (AVSECO), which is responsible for security at the Hong Kong airport, told the Hong Kong Economic Journal that its initial investigation found the officers involved did not follow procedures and had allowed Ma to take the gel on board.

A disciplinary review has been launched in accordance with established procedures, it said.

Jeremy Tam Man-ho, a Civic Party lawmaker who was once a pilot, slammed Ma, saying the airport incident marks an example of abuse of power.

He likened the incident to a previous case in 2016 when Hong Kong’s then chief executive, Leung Chun-ying, was accused of misusing his power to have airport security rules bypassed for his daughter.

Tam said he has written to the CAD and the AA to demand that the latest incident is dealt with seriously, and that the agencies send representatives to explain the matter to the Legislative Council’s Panel on Security.

An AA spokesman, meanwhile, said the agency has contacted AVSECO for follow-up.

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