A man fallen from so high - Former chief executive Donald Tsang jailed for 20 months

Top News | Phoebe Ng 23 Feb 2017

Donald Tsang Yam-kuen was jailed for 20 months yesterday for misconduct in public office in a stunning reversal of fortune for "Mr Bow-tie" who was the city's leader for nine years.

"Never in my judicial career have I seen a man fallen from so high," Justice Andrew Chan Hing-wai said, as he announced Tsang's fate in the High Court at 10.30am yesterday.

Tsang, 72, was found guilty on count one of misconduct in public office as he deliberately concealed his negotiation with Bill Wong Cho-bau, major shareholder of Wave Media, which was applying for a broadcasting license, while he was chief executive and Executive Council president in 2010 and 2012.

Handcuffed and masked, Tsang was escorted to the High Court at 8.10am yesterday.

Despite having his waist chained, Tsang was still wearing his signature outfit of a suit and dark bow-tie.

When he heard his sentence, Tsang appeared calm but flushed in the face. His family members appeared to be holding back tears.

His wife, Selina Tsang Pou Siu-mei, had to be held by her son and sister-in- law and was seen wiping tears as she left the courtroom. She said they would appeal.

Clare Montgomery, QC, confirmed Tsang will file an appeal.

In sentencing, Chan said Tsang's criminality breached the trust placed in him not only by the people of Hong Kong, but also the central government.

"For some judges, sentencing is the most difficult task. And this case is no exception."

Chan said that as the offense of misconduct did not involve elements of corruption, Tsang would not be given the high end of imprisonment for five to seven years.

He would have got a 30-month jail term, but received a discount of 10 months. The sentence is on the lower end as Tsang's misconduct did not involve elements of corruption.

"However, it does not mean the offense is trivial," Chan stressed, adding punishment and deterrence were needed.

The seriousness, he said, lay in the position that Tsang occupied as chief executive. He was accountable to Hongkongers and the Chinese government.

Decisions made in the Executive Council, in particular approving the broadcasting spectrum, affect all walks of lives.

"The chief executive must be a person of integrity," Chan said. "He is the only person in the Basic Law that specifically stipulates that."

The maximum sentence for misconduct in public office is seven years. The more serious offenses involving corruption normally draw five to seven years in jail.

Otherwise, sentencing can be community service, financial penalties or jail terms, according to the seriousness of the offense.

The judge did not go through the evidence, given there will be a retrial on count one of accepting an advantage, tentatively set for September.

However, he did quote examples of cases, including that of Rafael Hui Si- yan, Tsang's former chief secretary, who was jailed for 18 months for misconduct.

Weighing all the factors, Chan decided on a proper starting point of 30 months' imprisonment.

But 10 months' deduction was due to Tsang's good character and contributions to Hong Kong.

"It is indisputable that the defendant Tsang dedicated himself to the public service in the past 40 years," he said.

Recognizing Tsang's contributions as a civil servant, Chan highlighted his efforts combating the 1998 financial crisis.

More than 40 letters were written in support of Tsang - from former colleagues, friends and family, but also from political foes like many pro- democracy lawmakers.

"The letters all speak with one voice about his commitment to serving the people of Hong Kong," Chan said

He also understood the requests for leniency. However, it was his duty to "judge according to the jury's verdict and to sentence according to the law" saying: "I do not see any justification in suspended sentencing."

Earlier, Tsang was in a wheelchair when he left the custodial ward of Queen Elizabeth Hospital but was able to walk to a prison van just before 8am under supervision of Correctional Services officers.

Tsang was accused of accepting an advantage as chief executive in the form of free design and refurbishment from Wong for his rented Shenzhen flat.

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