Jake's View

The frivolity of Donald Tsang’s corruption case does Hong Kong’s reputation no favour

I fault justice secretary Rimsky Yuen for passing on the buck of the ICAC’s findings, despite its frivolity and pettiness

PUBLISHED : Monday, 20 February, 2017, 6:47pm
UPDATED : Monday, 20 February, 2017, 11:04pm

The old Ottoman Empire had the most direct way of going about these things. When the old sultan died, his successor would seize all his brothers and half-brothers, slit their throats and dump their corpses outside the door of the palace.

If you want to send out the message “I’m boss around here now,” this certainly serves the purpose.

There are less assertive ways of doing it, of course. You don’t always have to kill your rivals, although the weaker your rule, the more it should help you keep the job. Mostly these days you just send them to jail, or threaten to do so if they don’t run away.

Thus in Thailand, former prime minister Thaksin Shinawatra ran away from the current regime. In the Philippines, former president Joseph Estrada was jailed after being overthrown in a palace coup by his vice-president, Gloria Arroyo. In Taiwan, former president Chen Shui-bian was similarly jailed in one of his successor’s early moves.

Similarly in Malaysia, political high-flyer Anwar Ibrahim was barely even able to pose a challenge for the top job, before being flung in prison, and South Korea now wants to jail its president before she has finished her term. North Korea predictably does this with more dash. There they kill family members even before they make a bid to become boss or show any sign of wanting to.

The general term for such political regimes has long been coined. We call them banana republics on account of the historic fondness in the Caribbean for serial government overthrow.

I am not saying here that I have any evidence that the trial of Donald Tsang Yam-kuen was politically inspired. I certainly cannot see how he was a threat to any present or prospective political boss.

Nor do I dispute the verdict brought in by the jury. Its members listened to all the evidence.

I did not. If the jury says that Donald did what the prosecution said he did, then I take the jury’s word for it.

But what has somehow been lost in all of this, is the extraordinary triviality of the charge of which he was convicted.

He did not tell his cabinet of his negotiations for rental of a Shenzen penthouse belonging to a company chaired by a businessman, who was a shareholder of another company that had made an application for a digital audio broadcasting licence, which he approved.

In the context of a courtroom with solemn barristers in horsehair hats speaking in weighty legalese, a robed judge sitting solemnly high up on the bench and the defendant in the box, it can be made to seem a weighty offence.

But let’s get back to the real world, folks. This was extraordinarily trivial. Put it in the context of murder, assault, robbery or any of the other offences we normally call crime; it borders on the frivolous.

And it does the reputation of Hong Kong no good. We come out of this looking like a banana republic, just another of those places where government’s rule runs so weak that the previous boss must be squashed flat on whatever pretext comes to hand if the present boss is to establish his authority.

It’s not really like that, you say, and I agree, but we have certainly done our level best to make it seem like that.

The world looks on and says, “Yeah, yeah, we always rather thought so and now they’ve confirmed it, well, well, well.”

In my opinion, justice secretary Rimsky Yuen Kwok-keung let us all down here. When the Independent Commission Against Corruption presented its findings, he should have said, “Too petty by far, fellows. Go and hunt up some real corruption or do one of your own people again if you must. The buck stops here.”

Instead, he passed the buck on and I fault him for that.

What I also have in mind is Donald at his best, bowtie over the microphone at the Foreign Correspondents Club years ago, baited on human rights and not having it – “Read my lips! No prosecution in Hong Kong of Falun Gong.”

And there wasn’t. Magnificent!

Too bad it all had to end this way. It should never have happened.