Amidst dramatic court scenes yesterday afternoon, the former Chief Executive (CE) of Hong Kong, Donald Tsang Yam-kuen, was charged with two counts of misconduct in public office, contrary to common law. The charges relate to Tsang's interest in a three-storey flat in Shenzhen, which he is alleged to have failed to disclose.
The charges follow a three year investigation by Hong Kong's Independent Commission Against Corruption (ICAC).
Tsang is now Hong Kong's most senior public figure to be prosecuted for corruption. The case follows the conviction of Rafael Hui, Hong Kong's former Chief Secretary, in December 2014, for misconduct in public office over his dealings with property tycoon, Thomas Kwok.
Tsang is alleged to have "wilfully misconducted" himself whilst serving as CE by failing to disclose to the Executive Council his dealings with Wong Chor-bau, a major shareholder of Wave Media Limited, which was granted various broadcasting licences. Tsang is alleged to have negotiated with Wong over the lease of the Shenzhen flat, and made a related payment of RMB 800,000 to a company owned by Wong in November 2010.
The second charge alleges that between December 2010 and July 2011, Tsang "wilfully misconducted" himself whilst serving as CE by failing to disclose to Kenneth Mak Ching-yu, a senior political figure, his interest in the lease of the Shenzhen flat. Tsang is alleged to have failed to disclose that he had employed Barrie Ho Chow-lai, an interior designer, to work on the Shenzhen flat, when he proposed that Ho be considered for nomination under Hong Kong's honours and awards system.
Both Wong and Ho have declined to comment on the charges.
No plea was taken in court. Tsang later issued a statement saying that he had assisted the ICAC fully with its investigation. He added "My conscience is clear. I have every confidence that the court will exonerate me after its proceedings". Tsang's wife also made a short statement describing her husband as a man of "honesty and integrity".
Tsang was granted bail of HKD 100,000. He was also ordered to inform the ICAC of his travel itinerary at least 24 hours before leaving Hong Kong and not to interfere with the prosecution witnesses.
The case was adjourned until November 13, when the prosecution will seek committal of the case from the Magistrates Court to the Court of First Instance for trial.
Tsang faces seven years' imprisonment if found guilty.
This prosecution follows the recent high profile conviction of Hong Kong billionaire, Thomas Kwok, and Hong Kong's former Chief Secretary, Rafael Hui. Both received hefty jail terms. As with the Kwok/Hui case, the charges against Tsang are likely to be fiercely contested, and be appealed in the case of any conviction.
These cases demonstrate the willingness of the ICAC, the Department of Justice and the Hong Kong courts to prosecute and convict Hong Kong's wealthiest and most senior ranking individuals. This forms part of a broader 'no tolerance' approach, entrenching Hong Kong's reputation as a low-corruption jurisdiction. Whilst the number of corruption complaints received by the ICAC has declined in the last 12 months, the ICAC's conviction rate is rising. 87% of prosecuted cases have resulted in conviction with the courts imposing heavy penalties, reiterating the message that corruption is not tolerated in Hong Kong.