Former Hong Kong leader charged with misconduct in public office

Hong Kong's former leader, Donald Tsang, was charged on Monday with two counts of misconduct in public office, the latest in a string of scandals that have ensnared senior business and former political figures in the Asian financial hub.

Tsang, 70, retired in 2012 after a high-flying career as a civil servant, serving as a senior official in the former British colonial administration and a former financial secretary.

The Independent Commission Against Corruption said the charges related to a rental deal for a penthouse flat in the southern Chinese city of Shenzhen and the nomination of an architect doing design work on the flat for a government award.

Tsang appeared in court wearing a dark red bowtie and pocket handkerchief, a white collared shirt and black suit. He stood tightlipped at a microphone in the rear of the courtroom and answered "I understand" as each of the charges was read aloud.

If convicted, he faces a maximum of seven years in prison for each count of misconduct, Deputy Director of Public Prosecutions Alain Sham said.

Tsang said he was confident he would be acquitted.

"Over the past three-and-a-half years, I have assisted fully with the investigations by the Independent Commission Against Corruption. My conscience is clear. I have every confidence that the court will exonerate me after its proceedings," Tsang told reporters as he left the court.

His wife, who accompanied him, said she was "deeply disheartened" and that she and her husband had been harassed daily for the past three-and-a-half years.

Public resentment toward Tsang had centred on reports of lavish spending on overseas duty visits, along with allegations of taking trips with tycoons by private jet and luxury yacht and of accepting a sweetheart rental deal for the Shenzhen flat.

The charges come less than a week after Tsang appeared at a high-profile National Day reception in Hong Kong on Oct. 1, standing in the front row of dignitaries, and a recent visit to Beijing to attend a military parade.

The perennially bow tie-wearing Tsang found himself in hot water at the twilight of his career amid controversy over his links with wealthy businessmen.

A series of scandals ensnaring powerful Hong Kong officials have tarnished the city's reputation.

In December, former government official Rafael Hui was sentenced to seven-and-a-half years in jail for his role in a high-profile graft case involving Hong Kong developer Sun Hung Kai Properties.

Tsang, the once-popular, church-going son of a policeman, was knighted by Queen Elizabeth for his distinguished public service under the British colonial administration prior to Hong Kong's return to Chinese rule in 1997.

His close links with the former British colonial government created some unease in Beijing and among pro-Beijing elements in the Hong Kong community.

Tsang is due back in court on the afternoon of Nov. 13. He is currently on HK$100,000 (S$18,320) bail and must notify the court and ICAC if he moves residences or travels outside of Hong Kong.