Henry Tang tells Donald Tsang corruption trial former chief executive committed to Hong Kong’s democratic development
Former chief executive says officials only need to declare interests of ‘direct pecuniary’ nature
Donald Tsang Yam-kuen was a chief executive dedicated to Hong Kong’s democratic development, and “a moving force” behind the city’s emergence from the 1997 Asian financial crisis, his former No 2 Henry Tang Ying-yen said at Tsang’s corruption trial on Friday.
Former chief executive Tsang, 72, stands accused of concealing – among other things – his ties with businessman Bill Wong Cho-bau, who owned a luxury flat which Tsang intended to rent when he retired in 2012.
He allegedly failed to tell the Executive Council of his relationship with Wong even though that council granted a digital broadcasting licence to Wave Media, a radio station of which Wong was a major shareholder.
In the trial, which centres on Tsang’s potential conflict of interest, Tang, chief secretary between 2007 and 2011, said not all interests ought to be declared.
Tang, who was an Exco member in his capacity as chief secretary, said only when “direct pecuniary interest” is involved should an interest be declared.
He said all the shareholders of Wave Media had probably been well acquainted with every member of the council. So if they were all required to make a declaration to be excused from the licensing discussions, “probably the council cannot meet because we will all be excluded,” he said.
When prosecutors asked him about interests involving personal or business dealings – such as a tenancy agreement – Tang cited a Bank of East Asia credit card he had used at the time but did not declare to Exco.
At the time, Tang noted, he was dealing with Wave Media licence applications, even though David Li Kwok-po, the chairman of the bank that issued his credit card, was also a shareholder of Wave Media.
“I don’t think a normal interest as such would be a declarable interest,” he told the prosecutor.
Tang told the jury the development of universal suffrage was a major topic during Tsang’s time in office.
“The chief executive took a personal interest in the development,” he said, citing Tsang’s “commitment for further democratic development in Hong Kong.”
Tang also agreed to the defence’s suggestion that Tsang, as financial secretary, had been a “moving force” for some of the changes put in place in 1998 after the Asian financial crisis. “[Tsang] took active interest ... in how to stabilise the system,” he said.
One of the companies connected to Wong owned the flat in question, which the court heard earlier measured 6,700 sq ft with a landscaped garden and library. Other Wong-linked companies paid for the HK$3 million refurbishment of the flat, the prosecutors allege.
During the trial on Thursday, it was revealed that the former chief executive exercised his “prerogative” to add an extra – unknown – name to a 2011 list for the city’s Grand Bauhinia Medal. The same year, he is accused of abusing the award system by giving Barrie Ho Chow-lai, the designer who worked on the Shenzhen flat, a medal of honour as reward for the work.
But Tang testified on Friday that it was his suggestion to add that unknown name to the honours list.
Tsang has pleaded not guilty to two counts of misconduct in public office and one of accepting an advantage as chief executive.
The trial continues at the High Court before Mr Justice Andrew Chan Hing-wai on February 1.