Hong Kong police caught one of their most senior colleagues in a raid on an “unlicensed massage parlor”—the term often refers to venues providing sex work illegally—sparking a major scandal for the city’s image-battered force.
The officer, Senior Assistant Commissioner Frederic Choi Chin-pang, has been put on leave after he was swept up in the bust, the South China Morning Post reported on Wednesday, citing anonymous sources.
Choi is the director of the police’s national security unit, which was set up in July to enforce a tough national security law imposed by Beijing. His rank is the third-most senior in the police force, subordinate only to the police chief and his deputies. He has also been sanctioned by the United States for carrying out mass arrests of pro-democracy activists in the semi-autonomous city.
Reports of Choi’s alleged misconduct dominated news feeds in Hong Kong on Wednesday. He has since been widely criticized for visiting an illicit establishment as a senior law enforcer. The scandal could further tarnish the already dire reputation of the police force, which took a hit in 2019 over its forceful crackdown on anti-government protests.
On Wednesday, Hong Kong’s police chief Chris Tang confirmed the police force was looking into alleged misconduct of Choi, but he declined to provide details on the time or location of the raid.
“Of course this incident will have an effect on the overall situation of the police force,” Tang told reporters. “But I think the work of the national security department will not be affected by an investigation of an allegation of an individual officer.”
Using or providing sex work is not illegal in Hong Kong, but soliciting clients or running a brothel is a criminal offense. Police raids of unlicensed massage parlors often lead to prosecutions involving the illegal sex trade.
Choi’s unit is tasked with enforcing the national security law. Authorities have argued the law is for restoring stability and defending national interests, while critics say it is aimed at eliminating dissent.
More than 100 people, including prominent activists, have since been arrested on accusations including secession and collusion with foreign forces, and a national security hotline set up by the unit has received more than 100,000 tips in six months.
Choi joined Hong Kong’s police force in 1995 and has received training in mainland China, the United Kingdom, Canada, Australia and the United States.
In February, Hong Kong’s leader, Chief Executive Carrie Lam, presented a public service honor to Choi and six other police officers, praising them for making “personal sacrifices” for safeguarding national security.
This story has been updated with comments from Police Commissioner Chris Tang.
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