22 September 2019
The Department of Justice should charge Donald Tsang or clear his name. Photo: Information Services Department
The Department of Justice should charge Donald Tsang or clear his name. Photo: Information Services Department

Why is Donald Tsang case still up in the air after 3 years?

In February 2012, then chief executive Donald Tsang Yam-kuen was accused of traveling abroad several times on a luxury yacht and a private jet with local business tycoons and renting a luxury apartment in Shenzhen from Bill Wong Cho-bau, a mainland property developer and major shareholder of Digital Broadcasting Corp. Hong Kong Ltd.

[Editor's note: The author founded DBC but is no longer a shareholder.]

Some politicians reported those allegations to the Independent Commission Against Corruption (ICAC).

The case has been under investigation for more than three years, and the Department of Justice (DOJ) has yet to decide whether to file charges against Tsang.

The ICAC and the DOJ owe the public an answer as to whether there is enough evidence against Tsang and, if yes, why they have not charged him immediately.

The delay has sparked speculation among the public, since Tsang is the highest-ranking government official to be investigated by the ICAC since the agency was founded in 1974.

The case is so critical and sensitive that it has drawn a lot of attention since the investigation was launched.

Given the simplicity of the case, the fact that the investigation has taken an excessively long period of time has become a cause for grave public concern, and some suspect the authorities of deliberately delaying action, for unknown reasons.

In 2013, some lawmakers already expressed concern at a Legislative Council meeting, and the answer from the then director of public prosecutions, Kevin Zervos, was the investigation would be wrapped up “very soon”.

Yet more than a year has passed, and there is still no decision.

Last year, lawmaker Dennis Kwok Wing-hang once again brought up the matter with the government.

Director of public prosecutions Keith Yeung Kar-hung responded last month that the ICAC had already completed the investigation of Tsang and the DOJ was looking into the related legal issues before deciding whether to press charges against him.

Yeung refused to comment further when reporters asked him about the progress of the case earlier this month.

Then Grenville Cross, a former director of public prosecutions who has been following the developments in this case closely, finally decided to raise the red flag and openly questioned the way the DOJ has handled this high-profile case (who kicked the case into the long grass, and why?).

Hong Kong is a society that embraces the rule of law, and everyone is equal before the law.

I believe it would constitute a violation of justice if the DOJ failed to press charges against Tsang while having substantial evidence to do so, and the secretary of justice should be held accountable and removed from office if this were the case.

On the other hand, it would also constitute a breach of justice if the DOJ deliberately prolonged the process in the absence of any conclusive and substantial evidence and, for political reasons, dragged its feet over withdrawing the case against Tsang.

In other words, Tsang should stand trial and face charges if there is enough evidence against him, or else the DOJ should publicly clear his name.

Any deliberate attempt to allow the case to drag on indefinitely and unnecessarily would be unfair to Tsang, because he would continue to be suspected of wrongdoing, and the media simply wouldn’t leave him alone until the DOJ publicly announced that it didn’t have a clear case against him.

Allowing someone to look guilty when in fact he is not is as much a threat to the rule of law as letting someone walk free when he has committed a crime.

Given Chief Executive Leung Chun-ying’s ruthlessness in persecuting his political opponents and his disrespect for rules, we have every reason to believe he is the one behind the scenes who has been manipulating our judicial system in Tsang’s case to serve his own sinister purposes.

It is noteworthy that Tsang never tried to hide the scandals, and he even appointed former chief justice Andrew Li Kwok-nang to lead an independent inquiry into the system’s loopholes and try to put things right.

In contrast, when Leung was found to have accepted about HK$50 million (US$6.45 million) from Australian firm UGL and hiding his DTZ Japan shares with a shell company, and to have a perceived conflict of interest in denying HKTV a television license, all he did was evade questions and refuse to come clean.

Ever since Leung came to power, our long-standing justice system and core values have been eroding.

To make matters worse, both the reputation and credibility of the once respected ICAC have deteriorated considerably.

The way it has handled citizens’ complaints in recent years has often given the impression it is enforcing the law selectively, just as the police are doing under Police Commissioner Andy Tsang Wai-hung.

Tsang’s case is a matter of public interest and therefore must be handled with impartiality and due process. It must not be influenced by anything other than legal concerns.

The article first appeared in the Hong Kong Economic Journal on March 6.

Translation by Alan Lee

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Former radio talk show host; Columnist at the Hong Kong Economic Journal