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Donald Tsang

Friends and foes present mitigation letters in support of former Hong Kong leader Donald Tsang

Chief executive contenders, Democratic Party members and former ministers in Tsang’s cabinet among those seeking leniency for ex-leader

PUBLISHED : Monday, 20 February, 2017, 11:41pm
UPDATED : Tuesday, 21 February, 2017, 8:20am

While prosecutors portrayed Donald Tsang Yam-kuen as a two-faced man who was undone by greed, the High Court on Monday was presented with an outpouring of public support in the form of mitigation letters from the former chief executive’s friends and critics alike.

In a last-ditch plea for leniency, defence counsel Clare Montgomery QC pleaded for leniency, citing letters that praised Tsang – a “role model” for many – for his contributions in defending the rule of law, advancing democracy and boosting the economy.

Prominent among a stack of some 40 letters was one written by Wong Yan-lung SC, who served as Tsang’s justice minister. Attending the mitigation session, he recalled that Tsang was a boss who put his own reputation on the line for the democratic development of Hong Kong.

‘Someone I admire’: three letters of mitigation for convicted former Hong Kong leader Donald Tsang

Wong wrote that in 2010, the political reform package proposed by Tsang’s administration was losing support in the Legislative Council – unless it was modified to incorporate suggestions made by the Democratic Party.

“It was an agonising decision for him as he had to override certain internal opposition and risk personal credibility and trust before the [central people’s government],” Wong recalled.

Wong described Tsang’s decision to accommodate the Democrats’ suggestions as “a selfless act” for the long-term well-being of Hong Kong in its quest for universal suffrage.

“Donald truly believes in judicial independence. He assured me repeatedly the independent and internationally renowned judiciary in the HKSAR is our pride and the cornerstone of our success,” he said.

Wong recalled Tsang’s staunch support for him when the former justice minister was against a reinterpretation of the Basic Law by Beijing over an international legal dispute.

The two strongest contenders for the next chief executive’s job, John Tsang Chun-wah and Carrie Lam Cheng Yuet-ngor, also spoke up for their former boss.

“During this 30-year relationship as colleagues, I have witnessed his enthusiasm in serving Hong Kong,” John Tsang wrote.

Lam, who served as Donald Tsang’s development secretary, called him her “role model” as she shared a glimpse into their friendship.

“During the very difficult times of my handling the constitutional development issues [in 2014], we met at a dinner. He made a point of encouraging me, and wrote on the menu, ‘Have faith in the people of Hong Kong.’ Those are indeed wise words, and I have kept the menu with his handwritten note up to this day,” she said.

Former police commissioner Tsang Yam-pui, Donald Tsang’s younger brother, wrote on behalf of the family and described the eldest of five siblings as a “guiding light”.

Former chief secretary Anson Chan Fang On-sang pleaded for Mr Justice Andrew Chan Hing-wai to show leniency. “Forty-five years of dedicated service has come to nought. His reputation is in ruins,” she wrote. “Mr Tsang, his wife and his family have endured a five-year ordeal that few of us can even begin to appreciate. This is punishment in itself.”

A handful of senior officials – including former chief secretaries Henry Tang Ying-yen and Stephen Lam Sui-lung and current Monetary Authority chief Norman Chan Tak-lam – wrote in praise of Tsang’s efforts in combatting the Asian financial crisis when he was the city’s finance minister in 1997.

Thirteen veterans from the Democratic Party, some of Tsang’s staunchest political opponents, also acknowledged Tsang’s contributions to the city despite their past criticism. The party’s founder, Martin Lee Chu-ming, whom Tsang attended church with, praised him for being a good father.

But Mr Justice Chan warned it was “highly unlikely” he would suspend Tsang’s jail sentence.