After three years of investigation, the Independent Commission Against Corruption (ICAC) finally filed charges this week against Hong Kong’s former chief executive, Donald Tsang Yam-kuan.
However, to the surprise of many, Tsang wasn’t charged with availing luxury yachts and private jets and enjoying free hospitality from business tycoons during his term as the city’s top leader. Instead, the charge against him was “misconduct in public office”.
According to a statement released by the Department of Justice, details of the two counts of “misconduct in public office” charges brought against Tsang are as follows:
The first charge alleges that Tsang failed to inform the Executive Council about his negotiations with Wong Chu-bao, a major shareholder of Wave Media Ltd. (WML), over the lease of a luxury flat in Shenzhen between November 2, 2010, and January 20, 2012, when the Council was discussing a radio license application submitted by WML which was eventually approved.
The charge also alleges that Tsang failed to disclose a related payment of 800,000 yuan (US$125,800) to a company owned by Wong during that period of time.
The second charge alleges that between December 2010 and July 2011, Tsang failed to inform the government that he had hired Barrie Ho, a famous interior designer, to decorate his new flat at a time when Tsang proposed that Ho be considered for nomination under the honors and awards system.
As Chief Justice Geoffrey Ma put it earlier, everybody is equal before the law, including the chief executive, a principle which is also guaranteed under Article 25 of the Basic Law.
Hence, I am truly glad that the government finally took the plunge and pressed charges against Tsang.
As there has been widespread public concern over Tsang’s alleged breach of conduct and abuse of power during his term of office, the case filed against the former top leader shows the world that no one is above the law in Hong Kong, no matter how rich and powerful he is or what public office he used to hold.
Having said that, I urge the Justice Department to stay the course and continue to uphold the rule of law by launching an investigation into incumbent chief executive Leung Chun-ying’s conduct in office.
If there is substantial evidence of misconduct, the department should bring him to trial quickly.
I am not going to go into details about the allegation that Leung might have received illegal benefits from Australian company UGL through the Japanese branch of DTZ, a surveyor firm co-founded by Leung, as there have already been plenty of media reports on that.
Rumor has it that Wang Qishan, a member of the Politburo Standing Committee in Beijing and the man in charge of cracking down on high-level corruption across the Mainland, has already dispatched a secret task force to Australia to probe Leung’s case, and that it won’t be too long before Beijing finally comes up with a decision.
Regardless of how Beijing chooses to take care of Leung, it is clear that of the HK$50 million that UGL is reported to have paid Leung, half the money was received after he had assumed office in 2012.
If Leung has failed to inform the Executive Council about the payment — be it to due to negligence or a deliberate act of concealing — it constitutes misconduct in public office. And the ICAC must not turn a blind eye to that.
Meanwhile, there is also a possible conflict of interest case involving Payson Cha Mou-sing, an important client of the Japanese branch of the DTZ and a former major shareholder of ATV.
If Leung did not inform the Executive Council about his indirect business connection with Cha when the Council was discussing the application for license renewal submitted by ATV, then it also constitutes misconduct in public office, which cries out for further investigation.
Likewise, since DTZ has helped one of its clients to bid for a land plot in Wong Chuk Hang on which a private hospital will be built, if Leung failed to notify the Executive Council of his business interest with DTZ when the Council was deciding whether to approve that bid, that also constitutes a case of misconduct in public office.
I am glad that the Department of Justice and the ICAC did not let Donald Tsang get away with what he did just because he is a former chief executive.
The decision to press charges sends a signal that the government is determined to uphold the rule of law in the city.
Now, why not keep up the good work and launch an investigation into Leung’s own conduct as soon as possible and press charges if there is substantial evidence?
This article appeared in the Hong Kong Economic Journal on Oct 7.
Translation by Alan Lee
[Chinese version 中文版]
– Contact us at [email protected]