A former leader of Hong Kong faces misconduct charges over a luxury apartment in mainland China, authorities said Monday, setting the stage for the southern Chinese business hub’s most high-profile corruption trial in recent memory.
The Independent Commission Against Corruption said in a statement that it filed two charges of misconduct in public office against Donald Tsang.
Tsang, 70, is the highest-ranking official to be ensnared by the anti-corruption watchdog. He was released on bail and was grim-faced when he arrived at a magistrate’s court for a hearing, accompanied by his wife.
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The allegations date from before Tsang left office in June 2012 and relate to a discounted penthouse rental in neighboring Shenzhen in mainland China from a wealthy friend.
It’s one of several recent cases that have shaken public confidence and raised concerns about cozy ties between wealthy tycoons and the Hong Kong’s leaders.
The anti-corruption agency said that Tsang “willfully misconducted himself” when he failed to publicly declare that he was in talks to lease the Shenzhen triplex during government license negotiations with the company that owned the apartment.
The second charge stems from Tsang’s nomination of an architect for a government honor without revealing that he had hired the architect to redecorate the apartment.
“The decision to commence prosecution against Mr. Tsang was made after careful and thorough consideration of the available evidence, the applicable law and the relevant provisions in the Prosecution Code,” the Department of Justice said in a statement.
Tsang said he was confident he would be cleared of the charges.
“Over the past three and a half years, I have assisted fully with the investigations by the Independent Commission Against Corruption,” he said in a statement faxed to The Associated Press. “My conscience is clear. I have every confidence that the court will exonerate me after its proceedings.”
Tsang, who is nicknamed “Bow Tie” for his neckwear preference, took office in 2005, becoming Hong Kong’s second post-colonial leader, or chief executive. He was also financial secretary during the former British colonial administration, when he led the effort to successfully defend the city’s currency peg against speculators during the 1997-98 Asian financial crisis.