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Donald Tsang

Donald Tsang guilty of misconduct in office, making him first Hong Kong leader convicted in criminal trial

Former chief executive cleared of second count but jury fails to reach verdict on bribery, prompting the possibility of a new trial

PUBLISHED : Friday, 17 February, 2017, 8:17pm
UPDATED : Saturday, 18 February, 2017, 11:13am

Donald Tsang Yam-kuen became Hong Kong’s first ever chief executive to be convicted in a criminal trial as the High Court on Friday found him guilty of misconduct in public office when he was the city’s leader.

His fall from grace was played out in extraordinary drama last night as the jury, after 20 hours of deliberation, cleared him of another misconduct charge and failed to reach a verdict on a third charge of bribery.

After a six-week trial, Tsang faces a maximum sentence of seven years behind bars for misconduct in public office between 2010 and 2012. Tsang, 72, was granted bail, as the case was adjourned to Monday for mitigation by his defence team.

The nine jurors, by a majority verdict of eight to one, found Tsang had deliberately concealed his negotiations over a three-storey penthouse belonging to a company chaired by businessman Bill Wong Cho-bau. That was when he approved various applications, including a digital audio broadcasting licence, for radio station Wave Media, of which Wong was a shareholder.

A closer look at the Shenzhen penthouse in the trial of former Hong Kong leader Donald Tsang

Tsang should have declared it to the Executive Council he then chaired, the jury of nine, eight women and one man, concluded. Other applications by the broadcaster that were approved included the surrender of its analogue licence, as well as the appointment of executive councillor Arthur Li Kwok-cheung as its chairman.

But the jurors were unable to reach a verdict on a bribery charge – of the chief executive accepting an advantage – which accused Tsang of accepting the free redecoration of the Shenzhen penthouse. It cost HK$3.35 million, all paid for by Wong’s company.

Prosecutors are expected to file an application for a retrial to pursue the bribery charge.

Thanking and disbanding the jury, the judge Mr Justice Andrew Chan Hing-wai exempted them from serving for the next 10 years.

The jury was unanimous in acquitting Tsang on a separate count of misconduct in public office. He had been accused of putting forward interior designer Barrie Ho Chow-lai for an honour under the city’s award system, without revealing to government bodies Ho was engaged in design work for the penthouse.

Tsang stood grim-faced in the dock as the verdict was delivered. There was no display of emotion by family members who were there to support him, including his siblings, two sons, and wife Selina Tsang Pou Siu-mei, occupying front row seats in the public gallery.

The rise and fall of ‘Hong Kong boy’ Donald Tsang

But his son, Thomas Tsang Hing-shun, began to sob as he was reunited with his father later as Tsang was released on bail.

Carrie Lam Cheng Yuet-ngor, the front runner in the city’s ongoing leadership race, said she respected the court ruling. Lam, who served as development minister in Tsang’s administration, testified during his trial that he was her role model.

Lawmaker Lam Cheuk-ting, who was there for the verdict, said: “I think it sends a clear message to the public that no one is above the law.” There was no exception, the former Independent Commission Against Corruption officer said, for the chief executive.

During the trial, the prosecution portrayed Tsang as a two-faced liar who had used his public position to collude with rich businessmen for personal gain, while the defence claimed he was a “straightforward” man who had given 45 years of unbroken service to Hong Kong and had no reason to ruin his “glittering” career by accepting a bribe.

While the defence claimed Tsang paid 800,000 yuan (HK$905,000) as rental payment for the penthouse at market rate, the prosecutors said that was a secret deal for Tsang to purchase the property at an undervalued price or “a licence to occupy” for as long as he wanted.