Disqualified Hong Kong lawmaker ‘Long Hair’ Leung Kwok-hung not guilty of misconduct over HK$250,000 donation from media tycoon
Judge not satisfied beyond reasonable doubt that prosecution had proved money was meant for ex-lawmaker personally rather than his party
A Hong Kong court on Monday cleared disqualified opposition lawmaker “Long Hair” Leung Kwok-hung of misconduct in failing to declare a HK$250,000 donation from a media tycoon while he was still in public office.
Judge Alex Lee Wan-tang said after a seven-day trial that he could not be sure the donation from Next Media founder Jimmy Lai Chee-ying in 2012 was meant for Leung personally as a lawmaker, rather than his party, the League of Social Democrats.
“Despite the suspicions I have of the defendant’s conduct, I am not satisfied that the prosecution has proven its case against him beyond reasonable doubt,” the judge wrote in a 77-page ruling. “The defendant had the benefit of doubt and was acquitted of the charge.”
The case was the only prosecution brought by graft-busters over a series of million-dollar donations Lai made to a number of pan-democratic parties and politicians, which came to light in leaked documents picked up by local media in 2014.
The Department of Justice said it would study the judgment and prosecutors’ report to decide if further action was necessary. The Legislative Council secretariat, however, would not comment, saying it could not follow up on the court case.
Veteran activist Leung, who was stripped of his Legco seat by the High Court earlier in July over improper oath-taking, emerged all smiles from the District Court.
“We democrats are not a political force manipulated by others as claimed by the Chinese Communist Party,” he said, flanked by supporters and pan-democratic lawmakers. “The allegation that democrats have been paid by foreign forces to stir trouble in Hong Kong is not true.”
Metres away, about 20 counter-protesters shouted: “Judicial unfairness, black gold disrupts Hong Kong.”
The 61-year-old politician, charged with one count of misconduct in public office, was accused of severely undermining public confidence in the legislature by intentionally depriving the public’s right to know about any conflict of interest in his acceptance of the donation.
Unlike in the case of former chief secretary Rafael Hui Si-yan, who was jailed on the same charge, the judge noted that prosecutors did not raise any allegation of corruption or claim the payment was intended to make Leung feel obliged to be favourably disposed to Lai or his business.
They only accused him of intentionally failing to disclose, declare or register the HK$250,000 he received via Lai’s aide, Mark Simon, with the secretariat in compliance with its rules of procedure.
All lawmakers are required to register on a prescribed form the financial sponsorships they receive, whether directly or indirectly, from any person or organisation. But they do not apply – as agreed by all parties in court – when legislators only receive donations on behalf of a third person.
The current chairman of Leung’s party, Avery Ng Man-yuen, testified that the payment was a donation for the group, which Leung accepted in his capacity as then chairman. Political parties in Hong Kong are not obliged to declare such donations as there is no relevant legislation.
Since there was no counter evidence to contradict Ng’s claim, the judge found prosecutors had failed to prove the main plank of their case. Still, he considered Leung’s conduct to be “not without suspicion” since the payment originally came in the form of a HK$1 million cashier’s order that named the party as the payee but was later redeemed and split into three new cashier’s orders for the party, Leung and another member.
The court heard Leung’s HK$250,000 was transferred shortly after to his accountant at his Legco office, following what Lee described as “a discernible pattern” for Leung to transfer donations out of his account within a short period, as seen in his past handling of other donations from Lai for the party.
While the donation saga initially sparked debate on whether Hong Kong should establish a party law, members of both pro-establishment and pan-democratic camps said on Monday they did not see any urgent need to tighten the declaration rules or legislate on political parties.