Hong Kong Chief Executive candidate and former Hong Kong Chief Secretary Henry Tang steps onto the stage at a campaign rally in Hong Kong in December 2011. Tang's campaign was in disarray Friday after he blamed his wife for an illegal wine cellar that was found in one of the wealthy couple's properties.
AGENCE FRANCE PRESSE
HONG KONG: Hong Kong chief executive hopeful Henry Tang's campaign was in disarray Friday after he blamed his wife for an illegal wine cellar that was found in one of the wealthy couple's properties.
Tang came under pressure to quit the race after local media revealed the illegal structures including a wine cellar, a Japanese-style bath, entertainment suite and a workout room at the upmarket residential property.
The 59-year-old heir of a textile fortune said the illegal renovation was his wife's idea, after media descended on the house to film inspectors enter what has been dubbed Tang's "underground palace".
"I apologise to all Hong Kong people," a teary-eyed Tang told a hastily convened press conference late Thursday.
"It was my wife's idea and I knew they were illegal. Since we were experiencing a low ebb in our marriage, I did not handle the matter swiftly. I take full responsibility for the incident."
The well-known wine lover however refused to quit the race, saying he should be judged by his business-friendly manifesto.
His comments -- taking responsibility while blaming his wife -- left many wondering if the man believed to be Beijing's favourite for the chief executive job has what it takes to lead the southern banking and trade centre.
A 1,200-member Electoral Committee packed with pro-Beijing elites will choose the next chief executive on March 25, replacing incumbent Donald Tsang whose mandate is ending.
Tang's campaign for the leadership got off to a shaky start late last year when he publicly admitted to cheating on his wife of 27 years, Lisa Kuo Yu-chin.
A teary Kuo stood beside her husband then and again on Thursday as she admitted to arranging the excavations without Tang's knowledge.
"I just wanted to plan a comfy place for my family," she said in response to a barrage of questions from journalists.
"I greatly regret that I did it without considering the consequences. I'm very, very sorry."
Authorities confirmed the illegal basement was around 2,200 square feet (204 square metres) in area, according to public broadcaster RTHK. Many of Hong Kong's seven million people live in spaces a quarter of that size.
The controversy is the biggest setback so far for Tang's campaign, already beset by his frequent verbal gaffs to reporters and opinion polls putting him well behind his main rival, Leung Chun-ying.