Donald Tsang

Former Hong Kong leader Donald Tsang pleads not guilty in high-profile bribery trial

He faces one count of accepting an advantage as the chief executive

PUBLISHED : Tuesday, 26 September, 2017, 11:20am
UPDATED : Tuesday, 26 September, 2017, 11:35pm

Former Hong Kong chief executive Donald Tsang Yam-kuen denied a corruption charge at the High Court on Tuesday, raising the curtain on a high-profile bribery trial involving the retired city leader, a local radio station and a three-storey penthouse.

Donald Tsang Yam-kuen, the highest-ranking official to be prosecuted, faces one count of accepting an advantage as the chief executive from January 2010 to June 2012, in a trial that is expected to last 25 days and feature live testimony from other senior officials.

“Plead not guilty,” Tsang replied, when asked to enter a plea at the High Court. He spoke in Cantonese after an interpreter translated the indictment, which was in English, for him.

Five women and four men were chosen from a larger group to serve as jurors to decide whether Tsang is guilty of an offence that carries a maximum jail term of seven years.

The 72-year-old former leader, who was also the head of the city’s top advisory body, the Executive Council, is accused of accepting the refurbishment and redecoration of a three-storey penthouse at East Pacific Garden in the Futian district of Shenzhen, the mainland city bordering Hong Kong.

Prosecutors have said the service was a reward for Tsang to become “favourably disposed” to Wave Media, which was later renamed Digital Broadcasting Corporation.

Before picking the jurors, presiding judge Mr Justice Andrew Chan Hing-wai told them that they would certainly recognise the defendant, as he was a former chief executive. They would also have heard allegations about Tsang through the media and by word of mouth, the judge said, but it was not necessary for them to be completely ignorant about the identity of the person they were about to try.

Former Hong Kong leader Donald Tsang in good mood day before bribery trial set to begin

“[Otherwise] famous people in the public eye, for one reason or another, could never be tried,” he said.

The judge urged the jurors to leave media reports and gossip behind, and rule on the case with a “fresh” mind, fairly and impartially, according to the evidence they would hear in court.

“I don’t like Donald Tsang very much personally,” one juror declared, seeking to be excused from duty after he was drafted in a random draw. “That’s certainly a very good reason for you.”

While Mr Justice Chan did not see it as a compelling enough reason to excuse him, Tsang’s barrister, Selwyn Yu SC, said, “It’s a compelling reason for you to be challenged,” and released the man from duty.

Another jury pick was also excused after she said she had read the news and might be biased.

But another man, who said his language ability was not up to standard for the trial in English, since he was educated in mainland China, was not spared from jury duty. Chan selected him for the panel after the juror managed to tell the judge in English that he had been working mostly in Hong Kong.

Chan adjourned the case to Wednesday for the jury to be sworn in.

The former chief executive, sporting a red bow tie, was accompanied by his wife, Selina Tsang Pou Siu-mei, and brothers Tsang Yam-pui and Tsang Yam-chuen. His son, Thomas Tsang Hing-shun, was also in court.

Tsang left the court holding his wife’s hand under the protection of his bodyguards.