While the public has been focusing on the debate over university autonomy, Hong Kong’s anti-graft agency surprised the city by charging former chief executive Donald Tsang Yam-kuen with misconduct while in public office.
The move could be interpreted as an attempt by the government to shift the public’s attention from Beijing’s intervention in local affairs to a demonstration that Hong Kong still upholds the rule of law, under which even a former chief executive is treated the same as anyone else.
It’s worth noting that in a statement Tsang’s wife, Selina Tsang Pou Siu-mei made Monday outside the Eastern Magistrates’ Courts, she said “we have continually been harassed every day over the past three-and-a-half years.”
What happened three-and-a-half years ago?
That was when Leung Chun-Ying was elected chief executive of Hong Kong, in March 2012.
Selina Tsang indicated the couple’s life had changed after her husband left office in June that year.
Her statement can be interpreted as implying that it was Leung who made their life “unusual”.
For example, Donald Tsang was followed by a dedicated team of reporters of a pro-Leung Chinese-language newspaper in the past few years.
The paper ran front-page stories criticizing the Independent Commission Against Corruption for not making a decision to charge Tsang.
It is one of the city’s best-selling newspapers, and all its news stories related to Tsang began with “Greedy Tsang”.
From the perspective of pro-Beijing politicians, it was a shame that a former civil servant trained by the British was elevated to become the city’s chief executive.
They are very happy now that the ICAC is taking action against Tsang after years of investigation.
Oddly, Secretary for Justice Rimsky Yuen found it necessary to stress four times during a news conference Monday that no political considerations were involved in the decision to charge Tsang.
Perhaps his insistence might lead the public to believe that the secretary doth protest too much and that, in fact, the opposite is true.
The ICAC had been sitting on the case for more than three years, giving no concrete reason for the delay other than that it needed more time to gather evidence and to seek external legal advice whether to prosecute Tsang.
But based on the ICAC announcement yesterday, the case of Tsang’s alleged misdeeds is a relatively simple one when compared with that involving his former chief secretary Rafael Hui Si-yan, who was convicted last year of accepting bribes from top executives at Sun Hung Kai Properties Ltd.
The ICAC was perceived as acting much faster on Hui’s case.
So there is room for speculation about why the anti-graft agency delayed Tsang’s case so long.
The public should pay attention to the timing of the charging of Tsang.
Some analysts linked the case to the election of the chief executive in March 2017.
It is uncertain whether Beijing will allow Leung to run for a second term.
If the answer is yes, Leung can use Tsang’s case to attack potential rivals such as Chief Secretary Carrie Lam Cheng Yuet-ngor and Financial Secretary John Tsang Chun-wah, as both of them are closely linked to their former boss.
And it is not impossible that Tsang’s case may involve other senior officials.
That could help Leung to win public support.
And if the answer is no, Beijing may need to consider offering Leung a position of honor after he steps down.
There are rumors that Leung could be appointed a vice chairman of the National Committee of the Chinese People’s Political Consultative Conference, like Tsang’s predecessor, Tung Chee-hwa.
Tsang himself wasn’t offered any position by Beijing after he stepped down in 2012.
Former justice secretary Elsie Leung Oi-sie said Tsang’s case shows even chief executives are not above the law — despite remarks by Zhang Xiaoming, director of Beijing’s liaison office in Hong Kong.
Zhang said last month that Hong Kong’s chief executive transcends the city’s administration, legislature and judiciary.
Hongkongers have mixed feelings about the Tsang case.
Lam made an emotional appeal to the public not to rush to judge Tsang, who she siad made an enormous contribution to the city’s economic and political development.
But now that the ICAC has shown it is prepared to bring even a former chief executive to court, some are urging the agency to take action against Leung over secret payments totalling about HK$50 million made to him after he took the city’s top job by Australian engineering firm UGL, to which he sold his firm in 2011.
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