Former chief executive Donald Tsang has lost his appeal against his conviction of misconduct in public office, meaning he will have to return to prison. However, his sentence was reduced from 20 months to 12 months by the Court of Appeal.

Tsang, 73, was the first leader of the city to be convicted in a criminal trial.

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.

donald tsang
Donald Tsang arrives at the court on Friday with his wife.

He was given a 20-month jail sentence but was released on bail pending appeal after being in prison for two months.

On Friday, Court of Appeal Vice Presidents Wally Yeung and Andrew Macrae, as well as judge Derek Pang ruled that Tsang lost his appeal, but his sentence was reduced to 12 months. The court also reduced the amount in legal fees that Tsang would have to pay from HK$5 million to HK$1 million.

In explaining their decision not to overturn Tsang’s conviction, the judges said they believed that Tsang deliberately concealed his dealings with the broadcaster’s major investor from the Executive Council – an act that they considered misconduct.

The judges said they decided to reduce his jail term as the starting point for the sentence should be 18 months. They deducted six months for Tsang’s good character and past contribution to Hong Kong, adding that Tsang’s health was not a consideration in the reduction.

On the reduction of legal fees, the judges said although Tsang and his wife had around HK$50 million in their bank accounts, their savings must have been significantly reduced after hiring top lawyers in three trials. They said Tsang is unlikely to start another career and can only resort to what is left of his savings and pension.

“Financially, the Costs Order may have a crippling effect on the applicant,” the judges said. They said another consideration was that Tsang was ultimately not convicted of a charge which made up the main thrust of his first and second trials.

donald tsang

Donald Tsang arrives at the court on Friday with his wife.

Tsang’s lawyer Selwyn Yu applied for bail pending appeal, but judge Macrae told him that bail was unable to be handled on Friday, and he should read the judgment before considering actions.

Tsang’s wife Selina Tsang said she was disappointed and heartbroken and will decide on the next step after discussing with lawyers.

In an earlier trial at the Court of First Instance, Tsang was unanimously acquitted of another misconduct charge over an allegation that he failed to declare that an architect he proposed for a government award was employed as an interior designer on the apartment.

The jury could not reach a consensus on a third charge of accepting an advantage over his penthouse renovation works at the first trial. A retrial was held over the charge, but another jury also failed to reach a verdict last November. The prosecution said that it would not seek another retrial unless the court directed it to do so.

Kris Cheng

Kris Cheng

Kris Cheng is a Hong Kong journalist with an interest in local politics. His work has been featured in Washington Post, Public Radio International, Hong Kong Economic Times and others. He has a BSSc in Sociology from the Chinese University of Hong Kong. Kris is HKFP's Editorial Director.