No way for Donald Tsang to declare his rental properties, Hong Kong court hears
Revelation from Exco clerk on cross-examination by former leader’s counsel
Former Hong Kong leader Donald Tsang Yam-kuen was given no way to make his rental properties known, a witness told a court on Wednesday during his bribery trial centred on a luxury mainland penthouse he planned to retire in but was accused of failing to declare.
Executive Council clerk Kinnie Wong Kit-yee, who took up the post at the city’s top advisory body in 2012, made the revelation under cross-examination by lawyers defending the former chief executive at the High Court.
The court previously heard chief executives – who also formally head the advisory body – would normally fill in forms on a voluntary basis to make declarations. Tsang is now accused of failing to declare a conflict of interest.
But on Wednesday, the former leader’s counsel, Selwyn Yu SC, said the form did not allow for Tsang to declare properties of which he was a tenant.
“If [Tsang] is renting, that is, he is paying rent to the government or private sector, it cannot be registered on this form,” Yu suggested to Wong, a prosecution witness.
To which she replied: “Right.”
Tsang, 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.
Prosecutors said Tsang had never revealed to Exco the arrangements for the penthouse, which is indirectly owned by businessman Billy Wong Cho-bau, the major shareholder of the broadcaster in question, Wave Media. They said Wong paid for the renovation.
Prosecutors further alleged that Tsang approved Wave Media’s various licence applications between 2010 and 2012 when they came before Exco, including one for a digital broadcasting licence.
Testifying on Wednesday, Kinnie Wong said if members had a direct pecuniary interest, they would be excluded from meetings to ensure the advice members offered to the chief executive was objective and impartial. During Tsang’s term, she was not yet an Exco clerk, and her testimony referred to documents used in the trial as exhibits.
In the former leader’s defence, however, Yu said although records had shown Tsang declared he was a pension recipient when Exco discussed the pension law between 2005 and 2008, Tsang was never asked to be excluded. Wong agreed.
The former leader was likewise not excused in 2006, the counsel continued, when Exco discussed whether the bribery ordinance should be extended to cover chief executives, even though he held the post.
“In fact, he participated in this meeting that led to the law being changed, and the chief executive can now be charged under the Prevention of Bribery Ordinance,” Yu said.
The counsel also said when Tsang’s predecessor, Leung Chun-ying, was an Exco member, he held a company that managed the residence where the penthouse in question was located. Wong agreed there was no record showing Leung had made a declaration about it.
Ex-Hong Kong leader Donald Tsang’s trial about corruption at very top of government, prosecutors say
The archived declarations further showed Tsang and his wife once owned a property in the UK at the start of his term, but it was disposed of some time before 2007. His family, including his two sons, had owned another Hong Kong property in Central and Western district that they leased out between at least 2005 and 2011 through a company called Aceregent Development.
But prosecutors said between 2008 and 2011, Tsang approved the six exclusions of then executive council member Ronald Arculli because he was a Wave Media shareholder.
The trial continues before Mr Justice Andrew Chan Hing-wai on Friday.