Donald Tsang

Donald Tsang’s penthouse was ‘unsanitary’ and ‘dilapidated’ before makeover, designer tells High Court jury

Property was to be fitted out with a gym, calligraphy room and a landscape garden

PUBLISHED : Thursday, 19 January, 2017, 6:03pm
UPDATED : Thursday, 19 January, 2017, 9:14pm

The intended retirement home of former chief executive Donald Tsang Yam-kuen was an “unsanitary”, “unhygienic” and “dilapidated” clubhouse before it was turned into a luxury penthouse, the High Court heard.

The transformation of the East Pacific Garden penthouse in Shenzhen, was to include a gym, calligraphy room and a landscaped garden, and was Tsang’s planned temporary residence after standing down in 2012.

Details of the 6,700 sq ft mainland penthouse were described to the jury on Thursday. Award-winning designer Barrie Ho Chow-lai said he found the site in a dilapidated condition during a pre-makeover site visit in February 2011.

Shenzhen penthouse design ‘tailor-made’ for Donald Tsang and wife, complete with ‘intelligent toilet bowl’, court told

“I found that it was very unsanitary…unhygienic,” Ho said, noting a “crumbly shower unit”.

Ho said the woman who showed him around the premises had told him that clubhouses in the mainland were different from those in Hong Kong.

“I was informed that there were commercial activities, entertainment, dinner parties and karaoke, and also that the people who used the clubhouse were allowed to spend the night there,” he said.

It is alleged that Tsang abused the Hong Kong awards and honours system while in office. He nominated Ho for a medal of honour in 2011 and while doing so, did not disclose to relevant bodies that the designer was carrying out renovation work for him. This non-disclosure brought about the charges of misconduct in office.

In court on Thursday, however, Ho agreed with his lawyer’s suggestion that Tsang had never mentioned that the medal of honour, which he received in 2011, was connected with his private design work for the chief executive, nor did Tsang tell him that he had nominated him.

Under cross-examination, the designer also testified against the prosecution’s suggestion that the penthouse property was a “luxury one”, because the Tsangs did not request luxurious brands.

A document recording Tsang’s wife's requests said: “bright, clean, modern and tidy”. An intelligent toilet bowl, a walk-in closet and a moveable table fitted in a calligraphy room and believed to be used by Tsang’s wife Selina Tsang Pou Siu-mei, were all part of the design.

Ho began work on the penthouse in 2011, but it was suspended in 2012 when media reports revealed Tsang’s plan to live there. Ho said during the time he did work on the project, he mostly dealt with Selina Tsang.

The court earlier heard that Ho charged a HK$350,000 fee for his work on the HK$3 million refurbishment of the three-storey penthouse, a sum prosecutors alleged was fully paid by companies run by businessman Bill Wong Cho-bau. The three-storey penthouse was also owned by one of Wong’s companies.

Tsang is also accused of concealing his ties to Wong, a major shareholder of Wave Media, between 2010 and 2012, when the Executive Council he presided over processed – and ultimately ­granted – the broadcaster’s application for a digital radio licence.

Ho agreed with his lawyer’s suggestion that Wong’s company did have a say on the property’s design work.

Tsang, 72, has denied one count of accepting an advantage as chief executive and two counts of misconduct in public office.

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