HONG KONG • Former Hong Kong chief executive Donald Tsang has been sentenced to 20 months in prison for misconduct in office, capping a stunning downfall for an official who helped steer the former British colony through a series of financial shocks.
Tsang, 72, had breached the trust of Hong Kong's people, High Court Justice Andrew Chan said yesterday while handing down the punishment.
Last Friday, Tsang was convicted of misconduct for failing to disclose a conflict of interest that arose when he was negotiating rent for a luxury apartment with a landlord who was applying for a broadcasting licence.
"Today is a very dark day," his wife, Mrs Selina Tsang, told reporters after the verdict. The family was "disappointed" about the result and planned to appeal against the conviction, she said.
Tsang, who served as chief executive from 2005 to 2012, is the financial hub's first former leader convicted of a criminal charge. The sentence comes about a month before a committee of political insiders picks the city's leader for the next five years, with residents increasingly concerned about a growing wealth gap in a city that routinely ranks among the world's most corruption-free places in surveys.
NO ROOM FOR IMPROPRIETY
Clearly the rule of law prevails and is very much alive and kicking in Hong Kong... The takeaway is that those who occupy public office - especially high office - ought to be whiter than white.
MR ALAN LEONG, a former leader of the pro-democracy Civic Party who ran against Tsang in the 2007 chief executive race.
Mr Alan Leong, a former leader of the pro-democracy Civic Party who ran against Tsang in the 2007 chief executive race, said: "Clearly, the rule of law prevails and is very much alive and kicking in Hong Kong.
"The takeaway is that those who occupy public office - especially high office - ought to be whiter than white."
Wearing his trademark bow tie in the courtroom, a weary-looking Tsang coughed frequently while sitting in a glass box during sentencing. After the judge finished, his wife rushed up and spoke with him briefly before officers took him away.
Justice Chan said ahead of the sentencing: "Never have I in my judicial career seen a man fallen from so high."
The Independent Commission Against Corruption's (ICAC) case against Tsang revolved around whether he had failed to disclose the apartment between 2010 and 2012. The rental deal for the three-storey apartment in the adjacent Chinese city of Shenzhen involved Mr Bill Wong, a major shareholder in Digital Broadcasting Corp, which at the time was applying for a broadcast licence, according to prosecutors.
The jury found him not guilty of misconduct for failing to disclose his relationship with an interior designer who refurbished the apartment, whom Tsang later supported for a top city honour.
It failed to reach a verdict on a third charge that he accepted a bribe related to the HK$3.35 million (S$612,300) refurbishment. The judge has granted a retrial on that charge.
Tsang joined the colonial government in 1967, rose to financial secretary under the last British governor and was knighted for his service. The devout Roman Catholic won widespread praise for his stewardship of the economy during the Asian financial crisis.
The ICAC is currently investigating whether outgoing Chief Executive Leung Chun Ying failed to disclose a HK$50 million payment from an Australian construction company relating to a business deal before he took office. Mr Leung has said the deal was not covered by disclosure requirements.
Professor Simon Young, an associate dean of the University of Hong Kong's Faculty of Law, said that the prosecution had boosted confidence in the city's anti-graft efforts.
"It sends quite a strong message to the community and to future leaders and to future politicians that the ICAC can and will look into these matters," Prof Young said.