Tsang leaves legacy of love of the high life
A wave of scandals in his final days in office mean Hongkongers are likely to remember Donald Tsang Yam-kuen as a chief executive whose love of the high life led him to accept lifts on tycoons' yachts and planes, set up a cheap deal to rent a Shenzhen penthouse and take advantage of his position for freebies.
The trouble began for Tsang, who leaves office at the end of this month, when he was photographed at a banquet at a Macau casino in February.
Tsang had described his visit to the gamblers' haven as a private tomb-sweeping trip, but he was seen rubbing shoulders with high-rollers and, reportedly, junket operators.
According to media reports, Tsang was dining with Hong Kong tycoons Thomas Lau Luen-hung, of Lifestyle International, and Charles Ho Tsu-kwok, chairman of Sing Tao News. Tsang and his wife returned to Hong Kong on Lau's private yacht, for which Tsang paid the equivalent of an economy class ticket.
The media went on to reveal that Tsang had spent time with Ho and Lau during a trip to the Galaxy Macau Resort last year and later that he had stayed in a luxury suite in a Macau casino hotel in 2007. Tsang said the trip was a family matter and that the suite, normally reserved for VIP high-rollers willing to stake more than HK$5 million on the tables, was booked by his son, Thomas.
Tsang argued that he had set his own rules for accepting travel from friends - including paying them the price of a standard ticket - but his office later admitted that it kept no record of Tsang's private travels, or his rules for accepting favours.
Hot on the heels of the Macau trip came the revelation that Tsang had agreed what appeared to be a bargain deal for a Shenzhen penthouse, to which Tsang had planned to retire.
The 6,500 sq ft home is in the East Pacific Garden complex developed by Bill Wong Cho-bau, a tycoon with many interests in Hong Kong and a delegate to the Chinese People's Political Consultative Conference.
Tsang was to pay 80,000 yuan (HK$98,000) a month in rent for a flat in Futian district that was revealed to have cost Wong more than 10 million yuan to fit out.
Wong is a key investor in Digital Broadcasting Company (DBC), a company linked to Arthur Li Kwok-cheung, a former member of Tsang's cabinet. In January, the government allowed Li to be appointed DBC's chairman, who would usually by barred from such a role because his brother, Bank of East Asia chairman David Li Kwok-po, is a director of another big media player, PCCW.
Tsang eventually gave up the lease in Shenzhen. But more trouble emerged at the time when it was reported that Tsang had sold his 1,600-bottle wine collection to Jim Thompson, former head of the American Chamber of Commerce.
The HK$2 million paid by Thompson was donated to charity. This was reported in the chief executive's tax return, and the tax deduction claimed in accordance with the Inland Revenue Ordinance.
More seriously, Tsang is the first chief executive to be investigated by the Independent Commission Against Corruption and may yet become the first to face a Legislative Council impeachment hearing.