20 February 2019
In 2012, Donald Tsang reportedly took out a lease on an upscale apartment in Shenzhen at a bargain and did not disclose it. Photos: HKEJ, Soufun
In 2012, Donald Tsang reportedly took out a lease on an upscale apartment in Shenzhen at a bargain and did not disclose it. Photos: HKEJ, Soufun

How Beijing plays into Donald Tsang graft investigation

Former chief secretary Rafael Hui has been in jail for more than a month for corruption.

Now what would happen to his former boss, Donald Tsang, who is the subject of a separate investigation for alleged graft?

We know Tsang is likely to be charged, judging by recent comments by Director of Public Prosecutions Keith Yeung, although he only said “very soon” when pressed for a time frame

A reasonable guess would be before the National People’s Congress in March. It would be embarrassing for Tsang to be indicted before the Lunar New Year, an important time in the Chinese calendar.

How Beijing views Tsang’s case will be critical.

After all, Tsang, nicknamed “greedy Tsang” by local newspapers, is nothing like his former subordinate who pocketed millions from big corporates.

In some cases, Tsang took free junkets like other junior executives. He is expected to vigorously defend himself against accusations of misconduct in public office.

The story about Tsang’s possible indictment was carried by the official Xinhua news agency, sparking speculation about Beijing’s determination to carry out President Xi Jinping’s anti-corruption campaign across the border.

Does the 260-word story spell bad luck for Tsang?

Not necessarily, according to pro-establishment legislator Priscilla Leung, an expert on mainland law.

Leung said Beijing is playing safe because it does not want to show any impartiality toward Tsang, whether or not he actually ends up facing charges.

It all began about three years ago, when Tsang was embroiled in a series of scandals.

Months before his term ended, he was pictured enjoying two holiday trips on private jets and yachts with local tycoons.

A more serious scandal would come after revelations he failed to disclose a lease he had taken on a penthouse in East Pacific Garden in Shenzhen from a property developer friend, Bill Wong, owner of DBC Radio, at a bargain.

Tsang did not move into the unit after reports about potential conflict of interest.

Tsang has been keeping a low profile since his retirement in 2012 but in the past 2-1/5 years, he has been shadowed by paparazzi from a local newspaper, according to an unnamed source.

Most of his associates are no longer in office, including his other chief secretary, Henry Tang.

Still, we wonder if Tsang’s predicament might have been different had Tang won the 2012 chief executive election.

It’s said that the delay in the Tsang investigation is being caused by uncooperative business tycoons who are reluctant to provide details to investigators.

But those who have been reading the papers in the past two years can hardly miss the intensity of Beijing’s anti-corruption efforts — from the crushing of the Big Tiger network to the swatting of the Pesky Fly brigade.

By the standards of the most corrupt Chinese officials, Tsang is a fly, not a tiger.

So it’s likely we will see him as a guest in official functions at the convention center in Wan Chai, not a resident of Shek O prison.

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EJ Insight writer

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