‘Trivial’ declarations made by former Hong Kong leader Donald Tsang, court hears
Prosecutor tells High Court that former chief executive made 69 disclosures in 44 Executive Council meetings, but never mentioned the flat in Shenzhen
Former Hong Kong leader Donald Tsang Yam-kuen declared “trivial” matters in more than 40 Executive Council meetings – but not his interest in a luxury Shenzhen property – effectively turning a blind eye to rules and regulations he drafted for the city’s civil servants and key officials, prosecutors alleged in his bribery trial yesterday.
It was also revealed for the first time that Tsang and his wife gave up 800,000 yuan (HK$896,000) to compensate the owner of the flat when they decided to abandon what was supposed to be their temporary retirement home amid growing media attention.
“It is an attempt by the defendant to ... distance himself from the property,” prosecutor David Perry QC alleged as his opening remarks went into a second day on Wednesday.
Tsang is accused of accepting at least HK$3.35 million in undisclosed benefits from sources including Bank of East Asia chairman David Li Kwok-po.
Perry said Tsang had made 69 disclosures in 44 meetings since he assumed the top job in 2005.
But not one, he told the nine-strong jury, was made in relation to Tsang’s links with businessman Bill Wong Cho-bau over the Shenzhen property that prompted the charges against him.
“This is rather trivial,” Perry said, referring to roles in statutory bodies Tsang had declared at the time Exco was deciding whether to exclude them from anti-competition legislation.
Tsang, 72, has denied one count of accepting an advantage as the chief executive, and two further charges of misconduct in public office.
It was alleged that between 2010 and 2012, he failed to disclose his ties with Wong over the Shenzhen flat Tsang wanted to rent after his retirement. At the time, the Executive Council, which he chaired, was processing licence applications by Wave Media, of which Wong was a major shareholder. Wong’s company owned the Shenzhen flat.
Tsang also allegedly accepted free refurbishment worth HK$3 million for the flat, paid in full by a company connected to Wong.
Perry noted that Tsang had declared being a member of the Jockey Club, a pension recipient and patron of the Institute of Architects when he saw conflicts arise.
He asked the nine-member jury to compare Tsang’s role in the Institute of Architects to the granting of a licence to Wave Media while Tsang allegedly went to the mainland with Wong to discuss the Shenzhen flat. “What would you expect him to declare?” he asked jurors.
Perry also noted that Tsang was involved in creating the ministerial system in 2002 and a code of conduct for civil servants in 2004 when he was chief secretary. The rules give ministers and civil servants guidelines on conflict of interest.
Arguing that Tsang started to take an interest in the flat in 2010, the prosecutor questioned why the tenancy agreement submitted to anti-graft investigators would be dated 2012. Perry said it was only when the media began to report his private life and cast doubt on his integrity that Tsang made the “pre-emptive” move to make “limited” disclosure to the media about the Shenzhen flat in 2012.
“In a simple word, it’s panic,” Perry said, alleging that Tsang was trying to control the damage.
The Queen’s Counsel also asked the jury to consider – if the deal was legitimate – why work to refurbish the flat was suspended, and that Tsang’s wife, Selina Tsang Pou Siu-mei, would forfeit a payment of 800,000 yuan as compensation to Wong’s company after the case came to light.
The prosecutor alleged that the money was prepared and paid in 2010, around the time the consultation for the licence bid was ongoing and when Tsang advised rural strongman Lau Wong-fat, an Exco member at the time, to interpret conflict of interest declarations “in a strict manner”.
Wednesday’s hearing was attended for the first time by former secretary for justice Wong Yan-lung, who served in Tsang’s administration. He chatted briefly with his former boss before leaving court.
The trial continues before Mr Justice Andrew Chan Hing-wai on Thursday, with prosecution witnesses expected to be called.
Additional reporting by Julia Hollingsworth