Saturday 19 August 2017

Ex-Hong Kong leader Tsang guilty of misconduct in graft trial

Ex-Hong Kong leader Tsang guilty of misconduct in graft trial
(AFP 08/19/17)

Former Hong Kong leader Donald Tsang was Friday found guilty of misconduct during his time at the helm of the city in a high-profile corruption trial, but escaped conviction for bribery.

Tsang, 72, held the leadership post of chief executive for seven years from 2005 and is the most senior city official ever to be convicted in a criminal trial.

The case comes at a time when residents are losing faith in Hong Kong's leaders, as a string of prominent corruption cases fuel public suspicions over links between authorities and business figures.

Tsang was found guilty of failing to disclose his plans to lease a luxury flat from a major investor in a broadcaster, which was later granted a licence from the government while he was leader.

However, he escaped a bribery charge over allegations he had taken the redecoration and refurbishment of the apartment as a kickback, after the jury failed to reach a decision on that count.

Tsang was also acquitted on another misconduct charge which alleged he had failed to declare that an architect he proposed for a government award had been employed as an interior designer on the flat.

Wearing a dark-red bow tie, Tsang remained solemn as the verdict was delivered to a packed courtroom and was visibly upset as he left the building holding his wife's hand.

His bail was extended until Monday, when he will be sentenced.

Tsang had previously said that he had "every confidence" he would be exonerated.

But prosecutors characterised his conduct as an abuse of power to further his own personal interests.

- Systemic problem -

One pro-democracy lawmaker, who is a former investigator for the city's anti-graft agency, said the case illustrated the problems in Hong Kong's political system.

The city's leader is chosen by a 1,200-strong committee made up of representatives of special interest groups, including business figures.

"The political system of Hong Kong sides with the vested interest groups," Lam Cheuk-ting told reporters outside the High Court.

"All of the chief executives have to maintain a very close connection with those groups," he said.

Lam said Tsang's conviction after 40 years of public service sent a clear message that no one was above the law.

The jury of eight women and one man took two days to arrive at their decision.

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

His former deputy Rafael Hui was jailed for seven-and-a-half 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 ($6.5 million) from Australian engineering firm UGL before he took office.

Leung will step down as chief executive in July -- his successor will be chosen by a pro-Beijing committee representing special interest groups in March.

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