Former Hong Kong minister appeals fraud conviction

HONG KONG (AFP) - A former Hong Kong minister has appealed against a conviction for housing allowance fraud, his lawyer said on Tuesday, in a case which has put the city's clean image under scrutiny.

Former development secretary Mak Chai Kwong, 63, was last month given an eight-month suspended prison sentence for defrauding the government out of HK$700,000 (S$114,983) by "cross-leasing" flats with a colleague, Tsang King Man, when he was a civil servant in the 1980s.

The pair leased apartments from each other's wives in order to claim the government rental allowance.

Mak's lawyer David Hui Tin Fook told AFP the appeal was filed last Friday.

"We thought the judge did not give enough weight to our defence," he said, adding that appeal hearings were expected to begin next year.

Tsang, who was given the same sentence, is also appealing the conviction, said Mr Hui.

Mak's arrest in July last year, less than two weeks after he was sworn in, rocked the former British colony known for its respect for the rule of law and relatively clean government.

He was the highest-ranking former government official to be convicted of a criminal offence since the 1997 handover to China.

The case was a major blow to Chief Executive Leung Chun Ying, who appointed Mak as development chief shortly after he was installed as the city's leader.

Mr Leung's government is already under fire for its perceived closeness to Beijing, despite Hong Kong's semi-autonomous status, and for what critics sees as its failure to solve livelihood issues.

Since Mak's arrest, two more of Mr Leung's cabinet members have resigned, and lawmakers have called for Mak's successor Paul Chan to quit over his family's interest in farmland designated for redevelopment.

According to a Chinese University of Hong Kong survey in August, only 24 percent of respondents trusted the city's government.