Donald Tsang: Hong Kong former leader sentenced to 20 months

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Former Hong Kong Chief Executive Donald Tsang and his wife Selina arrive at the High Court in Hong Kong, China, 20 February 2017.Image source, Reuters
Image caption,
Tsang, head bowed, was grim-faced in court

Former Hong Kong leader Donald Tsang has been sentenced to 20 months in prison for misconduct.

Tsang led Hong Kong from 2005 to 2012 and is the most senior official in the territory ever to stand trial for corruption.

He was found guilty last week of misconduct in public office, in a case related to a luxury flat in China.

In sentencing, Judge Andrew Chan said: "Never in my judicial career have I seen a man fall from so high."

A number of senior former officials in Hong Kong had written letters to the court in defence of Tsang's character.

Image source, AP
Image caption,
Tsang was taken from the court in a prison van, besieged by photographers

The judge said he took Tsang's reputation and long public service into account in sentencing, taking 10 months off what would have been a 30-month sentence. The maximum penalty could have been seven years.

Tsang was cleared last week of a second count of misconduct, while the jury failed to reach a verdict on a third charge of accepting an advantage. He is expected to be retried on that charge in September.

After sentencing, he was taken from court in handcuffs to the hospital where he has been staying since experiencing chest pain on Monday.

When the presiding judge asked Mr Tsang to stand for sentencing, the former chief executive took a sip of water and closed his eyes. He kept his eyes closed during most of the sentencing speech and appeared to calm himself with a rhythmic breathing exercise.

Five years of investigations and weeks of trial had culminated in this humiliating moment.

It was an ignominious end for a man who used to be the pride of Hong Kong - someone who had overcome a humble start in life to hold three of the city's top jobs.

Mr Tsang's legacy and reputation are in tatters and the judge acknowledged it, saying he had never before seen a man fall so far, so fast.

Designer flat

The case has worried a territory that prides itself on its relatively clean reputation.

The trial related to events which took place near the end of his term, between 2010 and 2012.

Prosecutors accused Mr Tsang of inappropriate and undeclared conflicts of interest, including renting a luxury flat in mainland China from the shareholder of a broadcast company whose licence applications he approved. They also alleged the flat was redecorated free of charge and that he later nominated the interior designer for an honour.

The jury found him guilty of misconduct over his failure to disclose the lease of the flat, but dismissed the charge related to the designer and did not reach a verdict on whether he accepted a bribe in the form of the refurbishment.

A career civil servant, Tsang rose through the ranks to become Hong Kong's second chief executive, following Tung Chee-hwa.

His deputy, former Chief Secretary Rafael Hui, was jailed for accepting bribes from a property tycoon in 2014.