Court sends former Hong Kong leader back to jail with reduced sentence

HONG KONG (Reuters) - Former Hong Kong leader Donald Tsang was sent back to jail on Friday following the dismissal of an appeal against a conviction for misconduct in public office, but with his sentence reduced from 20 months to 12 months.

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The unanimous decision by the three Court of Appeal judges means that Tsang, 73, previously released on bail after serving about two months, would have to return to jail.

Tsang’s lawyer immediately indicated he intended to file an appeal and attempted to apply for bail, but the judge advised him to read the judgment before doing anything.

Tsang, Hong Kong’s second leader since the city’s 1997 handover from British to Chinese rule, was the territory’s most senior official to fall foul of the law.

He was jailed in February on a charge of misconduct in public office for failing to declare certain dealings with a business tycoon.

The sentence brought an ignominious end to what had been a stellar career for Tsang spanning more than four decades.

Tsang, known for his love of bow ties, received a knighthood from Britain’s Queen Elizabeth. He was respected for pushing political reforms and helping to stave off speculative attacks on the Hong Kong dollar during the 2008 financial crisis.

Tsang’s offense took place just before he retired in 2012, when reports began surfacing of his lavish trips, sometimes by private jet and on luxury yachts, with wealthy businessmen.

The misconduct charge centered on how Tsang had deliberately concealed private rental negotiations with a property tycoon, Bill Wong, while his cabinet discussed and approved a digital broadcasting license for a now defunct radio company, Wave Media, in which Wong was a major shareholder.

While the judges decided to trim eight months from Tsang’s original sentence, they still considered his actions to have undermined the Hong Kong government’s reputation.

“The applicant’s misconduct was in our view particularly serious given his pre-eminent position in the community and the harm his actions will have engendered among the people of Hong Kong in their confidence in the way the government does its business, in the officials who are trusted to oversee the integrity of the system and, ultimately, in the decisions themselves,” the judgment said.

“To this day, there has never been a proper explanation as to why the applicant did what he did, and the question-marks over his actions and integrity will inevitably and regrettably remain as a judgment of his time as Chief Executive.”

Tsang’s wife, Selina Tsang, said after the verdict she felt “very disappointed” and did not take reporters’ questions.

Two veteran opposition politicians, Albert Ho and Lee Wing-tat, also showed support for Tsang in court on Friday.

Reporting by Venus Wu; Editing by James Pomfret and Sam Holmes