Former Donald Tsang aides ‘learned of penthouse in media reports’
Ex-chief executive described as ‘dedicated’ and one who rarely concealed his feelings, but who also never mentioned property in question to subordinates
The closest subordinates of then chief executive Donald Tsang Yam-kuen had no knowledge of the 6,700 sq ft Shenzhen penthouse currently at the heart of his corruption trial, the court heard on Tuesday.
But Tsang, the highest-ranking official in the city to stand trial, was a “strong-minded” and “dedicated” leader, who was “straightforward” and rarely concealed his feelings, his former staff members testified.
Prosecution witness and former secretary for commerce and economic development Rita Lau Ng Wai-lan, who used to sit in daily meetings with Tsang when she served between 2008 and 2011, provided a glimpse into his working style under cross-examination by Tsang’s counsel Clare Montgomery QC.
Tsang, 72, allegedly concealed his ties with businessman Bill Wong Cho-bau between 2010 and 2012 over the three-storey penthouse he planned to move into with his wife after stepping down as chief executive.
The property, located in East Pacific Garden in Futian, was owned by a firm connected to Wong, with a HK$3 million refurbishment paid for by Wong’s companies, the court heard.
Tsang allegedly failed to disclose to the Executive Council his relationship with Wong, also a shareholder of Wave Media, when the council granted various applications, including a digital audio broadcasting licence, to the company.
Tsang pleads not guilty to two counts of misconduct in public office and one of accepting an advantage as chief executive, an offence introduced under his administration.
Lau, who has known Tsang for 30 years, was a member of Exco in her capacity as a bureau head, when the digital licence was granted in principle to Wave Media – later known as Digital Broadcasting Corporation – in 2010.
Testifying on Tuesday, she said Tsang had never mentioned the luxury penthouse to her.
The court earlier heard that the residence was fitted with a library, calligraphy room and landscape garden.
“When did you first learn about his links to the property in Shenzhen?” prosecutor David Perry QC asked Lau. “I learned of it in the newspaper,” she replied, referring to media reports about the case a year after she stepped down from her post in 2011.
Another prosecution witness Kenneth Mak Ching-yu – who served as the permanent and private secretary to Tsang’s office from 2007 until the end of his term – also said he only learned about the retirement plan of his former boss after it was exposed by the media.
Mak, who saw the former chief executive every day, recalled Tsang speaking of it on air during a radio station programme after the news broke.
The Shenzhen property came to light in February 2012, but prosecutors alleged that Tsang’s interest in it dated back to 2010 – when both Lau and Mak served in his administration.
Yet under cross-examination, Lau agreed with Tsang’s counsel Montgomery that her ex-boss was a dedicated chief executive who would try his best to do everything for Hong Kong.
Montgomery also asked another prosecution witness who held a key role in granting Wave Media’s digital licence application, whether Tsang had acted “out of the ordinary” or in a “biased” manner in related discussions.
Elizabeth Tse Man-yee, former permanent secretary for commerce and economic development, replied: “Nothing out of the ordinary.”
Tse, who has worked closely with Tsang, described him as a “strong-minded” chief executive who cared about his work and the city. Tsang would even apologise if he found himself reacting too aggressively to colleagues in meetings, Tse said.
Both Lau and Tse said that Tsang never told them about his relationship with Wong.
The trial continues before Mr Justice Andrew Chan Hing-wai.