Former Hong Kong leader Donald Tsang would have been mad to tell public of penthouse if deal was a sham, court told
Defence counsel says lease on Shenzhen flat was a normal transaction that did not require declaration
Former Hong Kong leader Donald Tsang Yam-kuen would have been “mad” to voluntarily tell the public about renting a Shenzhen penthouse had it been a “sham”, the defence told the High Court on Thursday at his corruption and misconduct trial.
Clare Montgomery QC also said that even if the former chief executive had made errors of judgment sometimes, she insisted: “That is not enough to make him criminally liable for his actions.”
She continued her closing speech for the second day after Tsang opted not to testify, and no witnesses were called during the evidence stage.
Tsang, 72, has denied two counts of misconduct in public office and one of a chief executive accepting an advantage between 2010 and 2012.
His trial centred on a three-storey penthouse at Shenzhen’s East Pacific Garden that he intended to live in after retiring in 2012, for which he paid 800,000 yuan (HK$896,000) to businessman Bill Wong Cho-bau’s company.
While he did go public about the penthouse in a radio programme later, he is accused of deliberately concealing it first from the Executive Council, when the top advisory body was granting Wong’s radio station Wave Media various applications, including a digital broadcasting licence.
The prosecution has linked the money to a corrupt deal for Tsang to purchase the 6,700 sq ft penthouse, describing a set of 2012 rental agreements as a “sham”, but Montgomery countered that the 800,000 yuan was a normal one-year rental payment at market rate.
“If he didn’t have documents to back up that statement ... it’s mad it would get mentioned,” the defence said, referring to a radio programme in 2012 when Tsang volunteered to reveal details of the penthouse.
Tsang did so, counsel said, even though he was only being investigated for his use of his friends’ private jets and yachts for which the press accused him of misconduct at the time. They are not the subject of this trial.
“We suggest there is nothing suspicious in the way the lease was drafted and the way it was negotiated,” she said, adding that a “perfectly normal transaction” would not require declaration.
Although not part of the trial allegations, Montgomery also addressed the jury on Tsang’s private jet and yacht trips, which were brought up earlier by prosecutors as background information.
The court had heard how Tsang relied on rules in “in his mind” to govern his private trips, but Montgomery urged the jury to take into account the fact that Tsang was only the second chief executive ever at the time.
“If he inherited a complete body of rules, that’s not something just his fault,” she said.
As for the allegation that the refurbishment of the penthouse was all paid for by Wong’s company, Montgomery said it was a normal move for the firm.
She is expected to finish her final submission today, after which the judge will make closing remarks next week.