Hong Kong's 'bow tie Tsang' denies graft related to China penthouse

HONG KONG: Former Hong Kong leader Donald Tsang, the highest-ranking ex-official to be charged in the city's history, on Tuesday denied bribery related to the decoration of a luxury penthouse in the neighbouring Chinese city of Shenzhen.

Tsang, 72, pleaded not guilty in the high court to one count of "chief executive accepting an advantage" and another two counts of misconduct in public office. He had pleaded not guilty to the misconduct charges in late 2015.

The charges allege Tsang accepted refurbishment and redecoration work on the three-storey penthouse in Shenzhen that he'd rented from the Shenzhen East Pacific Group, owned by property tycoon Bill Wong Cho-bau.

Tsang, who appeared stern-faced and wore a black bow tie, failed to disclose his rental negotiations with Wong while his cabinet discussed and approved a digital broadcasting licence for a now defunct radio company, in which Wong was a major shareholder, according to Hong Kong's anti-graft agency, the Independent Commission Against Corruption.

Tsang also nominated an architect who had carried out design work on the Shenzhen penthouse for a government award.

Tsang, nicknamed "bow tie Tsang" for his sartorial flourish, became the financial hub's second Chief Executive in 2005 after his unpopular predecessor, Tung Chee-hwa, resigned citing health problems.

The son of a police officer, Tsang enjoyed a high-flying career, rising through the civil service ranks to serve as colonial Hong Kong's first ethnic Chinese financial secretary just before the city's handover from British to Chinese rule in 1997. He was knighted that same year.

The graft offences Tsang faces were allegedly committed between 2010 and 2012, the year he retired as chief executive.

Hong Kong returned to China under a one country, two systems formula, which guarantees freedoms not enjoyed on the mainland, including an independent legal system.