Donald Tsang put forward idea of nominating interior designer for city award, ex-aide testifies
Former chief executive’s secretary tells court that ex-leader of city proposed honour for designer engaged in his HK$3m penthouse refurbishment
Former chief executive Donald Tsang Yam-kuen personally advocated that an honour be conferred on an interior designer he stands accused of improperly awarding over HK$3 million in refurbishment work, the High Court heard on Wednesday.
But Tsang was not insistent that interior designer Barrie Ho Chow-lai be nominated, his former secretary told the jury.
Testifying on Wednesday, Kenneth Mak Ching-yu, the former permanent secretary of Tsang’s office, said typically a bureau would proceed with such a suggestion “unless they had a strong reason against” doing so.
Tsang, 72, is on trial for concealing his ties with Ho, who charged HK$350,000 to carry out HK$3 million in refurbishment work at a Shenzhen penthouse the former chief executive intended to call home after he left office in 2012.
The prosecutors accused Tsang of abusing the city’s honours and awards system by nominating Ho for a medal without disclosing to relevant bodies that the designer had been engaged to carry out “tailor-made” design work for the chief executive between 2010 and 2012.
The two sums incurred, the prosecutors alleged, were both paid for by companies connected to businessmen Bill Wong Cho-bau. The companies also owned the Shenzhen flat.
Tsang is also involved in other allegations concerning his failure to inform the Executive Council about his tie with Wong between 2010 and 2012, when the council he then chaired granted Wong’s radio station Wave Media a digital licence.
Testifying yesterday, Mak said Tsang asked him to stay behind after a meeting that took place one day between February and March 2011.
Tsang, he said, gave him Ho’s name to pass onto the Development Bureau for consideration of a nomination under the city’s honours and awards system. But he recalled Tsang also gave him at least three or four other names.
The suggestion was taken up by the bureau, which nominated Ho to the Honours and Non-official Justices of the Peace Selection Committee in a form signed by then bureau secretary Carrie Lam Cheng Yuet-ngor, now a prosecution witness, in April that year.
Mak recalled Tsang told him Ho contributed to the community through his decoration work for the Hong Kong Federation of Youth Groups, prompting the permanent secretary to add that information to the form.
Ho was later awarded a medal that year. But under cross-examination, Mak said Tsang’s suggestion stopped short of being a direction and that the bureau had the final say, even though it would normally not deviate from a chief executive’s proposal.
Mak agreed with the defence’s suggestion that the medal was among the lowest-ranking honours to be given. But he was unsure whether Tsang had done anything further to intervene in the process after they spoke.
The trial continues before Mr Justice Andrew Chan Hing-wai.