Donald Tsang’s motive for setting up independent review panel questioned at trial
Prosecutors see witness disagree with their claim former city leader created committee to deflect attention
A former Hong Kong leader’s motive for setting up an independent review panel after he offered contrite words over corruption allegations was called into question at his bribery trial on Friday.
Donald Tsang Yam-kuen wrote to his subordinates to say he had “learned a hard lesson” and would “act more rigorously” after media scrutiny intensified about his actions, the High Court heard, and prosecutors pressed a witness who worked with the top official about the ensuing decision to review conflicts of interest.
They allege the former chief executive sought to shift focus by setting up an independent review committee, for which he appointed then chief justice Andrew Li Kwok-nang as chairman. Instead of looking into his corrupt conduct, prosecutors said, the committee would review the government’s protocols in general.
But on Friday, Kevin Choi, then deputy private secretary of Tsang’s office, said: “I don’t quite agree”.
Choi, who served at the Chief Executive Office between 2010 and 2012, said he acknowledged the circular touched on the role of the committee, which was to review then existing rules governing politically appointed officials and chief executives on declaring conflicts of interest.
The circular was sent to civil servants on February 28, 2012, alongside an article Tsang wrote for the Sunday Morning Post, mentioning the same topic.
However, Choi, now the deputy secretary for transport and housing, testified on Friday that Tsang also offered his own thoughts in the circular.
Tsang wrote in its English version: “I have learned a hard lesson, but I remain hopeful that something constructive will come out of it.”
Choi cited the passage, adding that the Chinese version was even clearer as Tsang had written he would “act more rigorously”.
The former leader, 72, has denied one count of accepting an advantage between 2010 and 2012 as the city’s chief executive. He led the city from 2005 to 2012.
The former top official has been accused of accepting at least HK$3.8 million in refurbishment and design fees for a three-storey penthouse in Shenzhen and in return becoming “favourably disposed” to a local radio station.
The penthouse was indirectly owned by businessman Billy Wong Cho-bau, the major shareholder of the broadcaster in question, Wave Media. Prosecutors said Wong paid for the renovation.
They also said details of the penthouse began to emerge in February 2012, when the press began to look into Tsang’s other potential conflicts of interest, including private jet and yacht trips he took with friends from the business sector.
Testifying on Friday, Choi recalled that he and his colleagues were busy at the time fielding media enquiries.
He agreed with prosecutor David Perry QC that chief executives should respond in detail to such enquiries but also need to consider time constraints and their privacy in compiling their answers. Perry has accused Tsang of not being forthcoming with the public at the time.
For the first time since the trial began last week, Tsang on Friday was greeted by former financial secretary John Tsang Chun-wah outside court. Tsang, a candidate earlier this year for the chief executive post, called the former top official an “old friend”.
Asked what was said during their brief encounter, John Tsang replied: “That’s between us.”
The trial continues before Mr Andrew Chan Hing-wai on Monday.