Former justice secretary Wong Yan-lung has denied that his attendance of ex-chief executive Donald Tsang’s corruption trial was arranged by a public relations firm or consultant. On Tuesday, a judge hit out at the use of public relations professionals during the court proceedings.

Last year, Tsang was found guilty of misconduct in public office for failing to disclose his plans to lease a Shenzhen luxury flat from a major investor in a broadcaster – a firm which was later granted a government broadcast licence on his watch.

He was unanimously acquitted of another misconduct charge, while a third charge of accepting an advantage over renovation works on the house failed to fetch a valid verdict.

Donald Tsang
Former chief executive Donald Tsang and his wife Selina Tsang entering the court. Photo: HKFP.

High Court Judge Andrew Chan on Tuesday explained in a judgment why a juror was discharged after they were seen approaching columnist To Kit, also known as Chip Tsao. The judge said To “was brought into court by one public relations representative, unlike ordinary citizens who had to queue up for seats.” The judge said that the incident led him to realise that a public relations firm or consultant had been involved in the trial.

The judge added that “former colleagues of the Defendant, for example, his former Financial Secretary and former Secretary for Justice, past Legislative Councillors from the Democratic Party, present Legislative Councillors from the Democratic Alliance for the Betterment and Progress of Hong Kong and prominent religious figures, were taken into the court on different days by the public relations firm or consultant sitting at the exclusive area” reserved for Tsang’s family and friends.

Judge Chan said he believed that the objective was to “impress upon the jury that the Defendant was a good person and had support from people across the whole spectrum of the society.”

‘Factually inaccurate’ 

In a written statement released on Wednesday, Wong said that the paragraph alleging that the former justice secretary attended court under a PR arrangement was “factually inaccurate as it relates to me.” Wong served as Hong Kong’s justice chief from October 2005 to June 2012.

wong yan lung
Wong Yan-lung. Photo: GovHK.

Wong said that, when he attended court on October 26, 2017, he went on his “own initiative as a former colleague and personal friend of the Defendant, having worked with him in Government for 7 years between 2005 and 2012.”

“I went simply to give encouragement and moral support to the Defendant and his wife,” Wong said.

Wong said he attended court “for the same reason” in January 2017 during Tsang’s first trial, and mentioned that he had also written a character reference for Tsang which had been widely reported in the media.

In the letter, Wong called Tsang a “son of Hong Kong.” He claimed that it was Tsang’s “endorsement and resolve” that allowed Beijing to trust the Hong Kong government and the Court of Final Appeal – so as to avoid a premature constitutional interpretation by the National People’s Congress Standing Committee in a 2011 case relating to the Congo.

“A huge constitutional crisis was warded off. The rule of law had prevailed,” Wong wrote.

high court political prisoner occupy activist protest rally democracy
Photo: In-Media.

“Contrary to what is suggested in the Decision, on 26 October 2017, I was not taken into court by any public relations firm or consultant to sit at the exclusive area,” Wong said.

“On that morning before the hearing began, I met briefly with the Defendant and his family outside court, and I subsequently went into the courtroom together with the family members to sit in the exclusive area. I knew seats had been reserved for family and friends, as was the arrangement in the first trial.”

“Neither of my two court attendances was arranged by any public relations firm or consultant,” he added.

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Karen is a journalist and writer covering politics and legal affairs in Hong Kong for HKFP. She has also written features on human rights, public space, regional legal developments, social and grassroots activism, and arts & culture. She is a BA and LLB graduate from the University of Hong Kong.