Ex-Hong Kong leader Donald Tsang’s trial about corruption at very top of government, prosecutors say
Male juror replaces woman on nine-member panel who could not pronounce ‘verdict’
Former Hong Kong leader Donald Tsang Yam-kuen was sweetened with free renovations totalling HK$3.8 million for his retirement penthouse on the mainland so he could become a businessman’s friend in the government, prosecutors told his high-profile corruption trial on Wednesday.
Opening the weeks-long trial at the High Court, prosecutor David Perry QC also said it was a “classic case of conflict of interest” with “corruption that goes to the very top of the government”.
The case, he said, centred on various applications Tsang – as chairman of the Executive Council – granted to a local radio station owned by businessman Bill Wong Cho-bau. Wong, through different companies, paid the ex-chief executive’s renovation bill and his fees for hiring a world-renowned designer, he said.
“His chief loyalty as the chief executive was to the people of Hong Kong,” said the British barrister.
But he said Tsang abused his position as chief executive, and had used his office for his own personal advantage, dividing Tsang’s loyalty and hopelessly compromising his position.
Tsang, 72, was chief executive between 2005 and 2012. He has denied one count of accepting an advantage between 2010 and 2012.
The former leader is accused of accepting the refurbishment and redecoration of a three-storey penthouse at East Pacific Garden in the “fashionable” Futian district of Shenzhen, the mainland city bordering Hong Kong.
The service, the prosecution said, was a reward for Tsang to become “favourably disposed” to Wave Media, later renamed Digital Broadcasting Corporation.
“He was sweetened and he would be Wong Cho-bau’s friend in the Hong Kong government,” the prosecutor said.
In his opening address on Wednesday, Perry said Wong was introduced to Tsang in early 2010. Tsang had made it clear that he was interested in living in the 6,000 sq ft penthouse owned by Wong after he stepped down as chief executive in 2012.
The HK$3.5 million refurbishment to turn what was originally a clubhouse into the penthouse the Tsangs wanted was all paid for by Wong’s company, Shenzhen East Pacific Group, he said.
The tailor-made design carried out by architectural designer Barrie Ho Chow-lai cost HK$350,000. It was paid for by Wong’s East Pacific Holdings in Hong Kong.
Meanwhile, Tsang granted various applications for Wong’s Wave Media between 2010 and 2011, which included a digital radio licence and a special request to appoint Arthur Li Kwok-cheung as a director, the prosecutor said.
Despite the conflict of interest, Perry said, Tsang had never disclosed the Shenzhen penthouse and his relationship with Wong to the Executive Council and the Hong Kong people.
“Secrecy is a distinct feature of corruption,” the prosecutor told the jury of nine. He said Tsang concealed the relationship because it was a corrupt one.
The prosecutor also said Tsang had never made known his relationship with Ho, even though he nominated the designer for an honour.
The nomination took place in 2011 shortly after Ho was paid the first instalment of the refurbishment project.
Tsang or his wife had met Ho 14 times between 2011 and 2012, the last time on January 18, 2012, when Ho went to the penthouse with Tsang’s wife and her feng shui master.
On the same day, Tsang promised to attend Wave Media’s opening ceremony, though he eventually failed to turn up because the penthouse had come under press scrutiny, the prosecutor said. That was why the Tsangs did not meet Ho again, Perry said.
The trial started with a hiccup when a juror selected on the previous day was excused after she mispronounced several words in English, including “verdict”, prompting the judge to question her language ability.
A male juror replaced her, meaning that five men and four women are now tasked with returning a verdict.
The trial continues before Mr Justice Andrew Chan Hing-wai on Thursday.