Hong Kong lawmaker Paul Tse courts controversy over WhatsApp leak furore

From baring almost all as a lawyer to becoming the prime suspect in the WhatsApp leak fiasco, Paul Tse now considers his electoral options

PUBLISHED : Monday, 06 July, 2015, 4:57am
UPDATED : Wednesday, 26 October, 2016, 2:38pm

Solicitor turned politician Paul Tse Wai-chun is not new to controversy.

Actually, he has a good record of antagonising his peers - fellow lawyers in the past and this time his colleagues in the Legislative Council.

The non-affiliated proestablishment lawmaker has emerged as a prime suspect in a political witch-hunt, led by allies in the legislature, over the leak of their WhatsApp messages about the walkout farce during the political reform debate on June 18.

As more secrets continued to leak out of the pro-Beijing camp and on to the front pages of newspapers, not only were members embarrassed, but Legco president Jasper Tsang Yok-sing's impartiality and integrity were called into question.

Leaked text messages seemed to show that Tsang, a veteran Beijing loyalist from the Democratic Alliance for the Betterment and Progress of Hong Kong, was colluding with government allies during the debate and the eventual vote - which ultimately went against the reform package.

Tsang's party colleague, lawmaker Christopher Chung Shu-kun, said the "leaker" had been rooted out - an independent who "used to wear shorts" to meetings.

And it was the very same Paul Tse who hit the political gossip pages early last month after he was pictured wearing shorts at a Legco meeting. He told reporters that he was fond of wearing shorts to weekend meetings during the hot summer months.

Chung continued: "The leaker used to like to talk to the media a lot. But recently he suddenly turned quiet. I guess he has been warned by [the mainland side]."

Tse insisted he was not the culprit.

He could not be reached for an interview for this article.

But in a radio interview early last week, he defended himself: "There is one point that I think is worth exploring. Given today's technology, must it be someone in the [WhatsApp] group who can [obtain the information]? Many of our colleagues do not take their phones with them all the time."

He added: "I have not done anything intentionally that would hurt the solidarity of the pro-establishment camp or the integrity of Jasper Tsang."

Apparently annoyed by the leak, Tsang, without naming names, hit back at the leaker in his column in a Chinese-language newspaper last Thursday.

"Betrayal is a common theme in Greek myths. No matter what the motive is, all those betrayers [in the tales] get severely punished … Betrayers are bound to be detested, no matter which community they are in."

With his strained relations with fellow pro-establishment lawmakers, some observers have questioned Tse's chances of getting full support from the pro-Beijing camp in next year's Legco elections.

Tse, 56, was born in Hong Kong to working-class parents. His father worked as a car dealer.

He grew up in a public housing estate in Sham Shui Po and went to Wah Yan College in Kowloon. The leader of the pan-democratic Civic Party, Alan Leong Kah-kit, was his classmate.

After finishing Form Five, he left in 1977 to further his studies in Australia. He finally entered the University of New South Wales to study law and worked as a barrister in Australia for seven years.

Returning to Hong Kong, he first did his pupillage with Peter Nguyen, a famous lawyer who served as a judge in the Court of First Instance.

He later joined Andrew Liao Cheung-sing's chambers. Liao is now an executive councillor and a member of the Chinese People's Political Consultative Conference.

Tse became a household name in Hong Kong in 1996 after he served as the pro-bono lawyer for Hong Kong tour guide Paul Au Wing-cheung, who spent four years in a Philippine prison for alleged drug trafficking. Au insisted he was innocent.

In 1996, Tse tried to enter the race to become Hong Kong's first post-handover chief executive. However, he did not meet the age requirement of 40. At that time he was 37.

He had also not lived continuously in Hong Kong for the previous 20 years, as required to qualify as a candidate.

Tse set up his own law practice in 1997.

But he soon got into trouble with fellow lawyers for advertising low-priced packages on minibuses. He argued that he was working "for the people" by making legal services affordable.

But he was perhaps best remembered for incurring the wrath of the Law Society after appearing almost naked on the cover of a local Chinese-language magazine in 1999 - a stunt that he said was to mark his 40th birthday.

"I'm not in bad shape for 40, but even if I had a pudgy stomach I would have done it," Tse said in a 1999 interview with the South China Morning Post.

"I am turning 40 and what better way to convey this message than appear in my birthday suit on my birthday," he added.

The following year, accompanied by his partner, former radio talk show host Pamela Peck Wan-kam, Tse donned a pink Superman costume in an unsuccessful bid to win a directly elected Legco seat.

He made a return in the 2008 Legislative Council elections, defeating his main rival Joseph Tung Yao-chung of the Liberal Party by just nine votes to become the legislator representing the tourism sector. Tung is now the executive director of the Travel Industry Council.

Tse was not considered close to Beijing at that time. In a 2000 interview with the Post, he said he admired least the National People's Congress Standing Committee members. He said they "contribute to our noise pollution. I don't like to attack people personally, but I resent illogical and unreasonable speech."

It was not until the 2012 Legco elections that he seemed to side more with the pro-establishment camp and won a directly elected seat in the Kowloon East constituency.

At that time, Democratic Alliance for the Betterment and Progress of Hong Kong veteran Chan Kam-lam said his group would "try its best to help" Tse win a seat there.

Whether that kind of support will still be in place for next year's Legco poll remains to be seen.

Profile for Paul Tse Wai-chun


Wah Yan College Kowloon

University of New South Wales, bachelor of commerce and  law

University of Hong Kong, postgraduate certificate in laws

City University of Hong Kong, master of laws

Professional career

1985-92: barrister in Australia

1992: admitted to practice in HK

Political career

2008-12: Legislative Council member, tourism constituency

2012-present: Legislative Council member, Kowloon East