Former Hong Kong Chief Executive Donald Tsang and his wife Selina arrive the High Court in Hong Kong, China February 20, 2017. REUTERS/Bobby Yip(reuters_tickers)
By Venus Wu
HONG KONG (Reuters) - Former Hong Kong chief executive Donald Tsang, the highest-ranking ex-official to be charged in the city's history, was jailed for 20 months on Wednesday for misconduct in public office, a ruling some said reaffirmed the financial hub's vaunted rule of law.
The sentence brings an ignominious end to what had been a long and stellar career for Tsang before and after the 1997 handover to Chinese control, service that saw him knighted by outgoing British colonial rulers.
"Never in my judicial career have I seen a man falling from such a height," said High Court justice Andrew Chan in passing sentence.
Tsang, famous for his bow ties, was escorted in handcuffs to the court from hospital where he'd been staying since Monday night after experiencing breathing difficulties and chest pains.
Scores of establishment Hong Kong figures, including top former officials and some leading opposition democrats, had written letters vouching for Tsang's good character and longstanding public service over four decades in a bid for mitigation ahead of sentencing.
Justice Chan said the seriousness of the offence lay in his high position as a person of integrity who had breached public trust.
He reduced the sentence by 10 months, saying that "it was indisputable that the defendant has dedicated himself to public service in the last past 40 odd years".
Hong Kong returned to China under a "one country, two systems" agreement that ensured its freedoms, including a separate legal system. Its spartan British-built prisons demand strict routines, including light work duties, and offer no special treatment to wealthy or powerful inmates.
The nine-person jury on Friday found Tsang guilty of a charge of misconduct in public office. He had deliberately concealed private rental negotiations with property tycoon Bill Wong Cho-bau while his cabinet discussed and approved a digital broadcasting licence for a now defunct radio company, Wave Media, in which Wong was a major shareholder.
Tsang was acquitted of a second misconduct charge.
His conviction adds to a number of scandals ensnaring powerful officials that have marred the city's reputation as a relatively corruption-free society guarded by a powerful and independent anti-graft force.
Tsang's legal woes looked set to continue, with the court saying a retrial would be tentatively set for September for another bribery charge on which jurors failed to return a majority verdict.
(Editing by James Pomfret, Greg Torode and Nick Macfie)