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Donald Tsang

Donald Tsang played by his own rules when taking private jets and yachts, Hong Kong court hears

Manner in which the former city leader handled his travel expenses was not made known to the public until scrutiny grew, prosecutors claim

PUBLISHED : Friday, 13 January, 2017, 4:48pm
UPDATED : Friday, 13 January, 2017, 11:23pm

Donald Tsang Yam-kuen played by his own rules as chief executive when taking rides on the private jets and yachts of wealthy friends and only had to observe declaration codes covering his investments voluntarily, a court heard on Friday.

There was nothing in writing about the rules associated with travel expenses in his office’s records and the public was kept in the dark on the arrangements.

Tsang adopted the rules in 2007 and first applied them when he accepted a trip to Macau on a friend’s yacht, but even one of his secretaries was unaware of their existence until a few months before Tsang’s term of office ended in 2012, the High Court was told.

The guidelines were contained in a document produced by prosecutors and which took the form of a reply written by Kevin Choi, deputy private secretary of the Chief Executive’s Office in 2012. It was sent to an independent committee that Tsang had set up to review the city’s declaration framework for top officials following the heightened scrutiny of his own behaviour that year.

The committee, the prosecutors alleged earlier, was Tsang’s attempt to shift the focus from his possible misconduct to the wider scope of the declaration framework.

Tsang, 72, has pleaded not guilty to a count of accepting an advantage as chief executive and two others of misconduct in public office.

The prosecution alleges that as chief executive, and presiding over the Executive Council, he failed to disclose his dealings with businessman Bill Wong Cho-bau over a three-storey Shenzhen penthouse he intended to rent in his retirement.

Wong was a major shareholder of radio station Wave Media, and Tsang allegedly approved applications by the company for a digital broadcasting licence. The property was owned by Wong’s company.

According to the document, a chief executive may take up a friend’s invitation provided he pay that person a sum at the market rate to show “he does not save any travelling expenses by accepting an invitation”.

Prosecutor David Perry QC asked Choi how he managed to learn about the rule when it did not exist in any records.

“I obtained the information from the chief executive through different channels,” Choi replied.

The document also stated that the chief executive need only “voluntarily observe” the requirements that applied to Exco members on declaring their investments or financial interests.

In cross-examination, Clare Montgomery QC asked Choi – who was posted at the Commercial and Economic Development Bureau and dealt with radio licence applications before he served in Tsang’s office – if he knew of any other Wave Media shareholders.

Albert Cheng King-hon, the shareholder Montgomery referred to, was the “dominant and driving force behind Wave Media” and “public face” in a separate licence application by the broadcaster in 2008, she said.

The well-known radio personality and former lawmaker was the “only director taking an active role in Wave Media”, she said. Choi agreed.

The trial continues on Monday before Mr Justice Andrew Chan Hing-wai.