Jury still out in graft trial of Hong Kong's ex-leader Donald Tsang

Donald Tsang (centre) leaving the High Court yesterday with his wife Selina, accompanied by a security officer. He has pleaded not guilty to three charges of misconduct and bribery.
Donald Tsang (centre) leaving the High Court yesterday with his wife Selina, accompanied by a security officer. He has pleaded not guilty to three charges of misconduct and bribery.PHOTO: AGENCE FRANCE-PRESSE

HONG KONG • A jury deliberating the fate of Hong Kong's former leader Donald Tsang in his high-profile corruption trial failed to return a verdict last night by press time.

Tsang, 72, held the leadership post of chief executive for seven years from 2005 and is the highest-ranking Hong Kong official to face a corruption trial.

It comes at a time when residents are losing faith in Hong Kong's leaders, as a string of high-profile corruption cases fuels public suspicions over cosy links between the authorities and business leaders, the Agence France-Presse (AFP) reported.

Tsang has pleaded not guilty to three charges of misconduct and bribery while he was in office. Each carries a maximum jail sentence of seven years.

During deliberation yesterday, the jury asked the judge to explain how one could be deemed to have committed misconduct in public office when there is a lack of direct evidence, Lianhe Zaobao reported on its website. The report added that the panel of nine jurors deliberated into the night without arriving at a conclusion.

The allegations against Tsang are linked to a failure to disclose his plans to lease a luxury flat in the southern Chinese city of Shenzhen from a major investor in a broadcaster - which at the time was seeking a licence from the Hong Kong government.

 

Tsang is accused of approving the company's application for the licence. Another of the investor's companies also paid for a refurbishment of the flat, prosecutors said, to include a gym, tea room and calligraphy room.

In addition, Tsang failed to declare that an architect he nominated for a government award had been employed as an interior designer for the flat.

Wearing his customary suit and bow tie, Tsang arrived with his wife at the city's High Court and sat calmly in the dock as the judge gave guidance to the jury yesterday, according to AFP.

Before retiring the jury, judge Andrew Chan said he would accept a majority of at least seven-to-two.

Tsang has previously said that he had "every confidence" he would be exonerated. But prosecutors have characterised his conduct as an abuse of power to further his own personal interests.

In 2012, Tsang apologised for separate allegations that he had accepted inappropriate gifts from business friends in the form of trips on luxury yachts and private jets.

Tsang's former deputy Rafael Hui was jailed for 71/2 years in 2014 after being found guilty of taking bribes from Hong Kong property tycoon Thomas Kwok.

Hong Kong's unpopular current leader Leung Chun Ying also faces allegations of corruption over receiving a reported payment of HK$50 million (S$9.2 million) from Australian engineering firm UGL before he took office.

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on February 17, 2017, with the headline 'Jury still out in graft trial of HK's ex-leader'. Print Edition | Subscribe