Hong Kong's former chief executive Donald Tsang, the highest-ranking ex-official to be charged in the city's history, has been sentenced to 20 months in prison for misconduct in public office.
Mr Tsang (72) "breached the trust of Hong Kong's people," High Court Justice Andrew Chan said in sentencing the official who led Hong Kong from 2005 to 2012 and had guided the former Crown colony through a raft of financial shocks over four decades.
“Never in my judicial career have I seen a man falling from such a height,” the judge said when passing sentence.
Mr Tsang failed to disclose a three-storey penthouse apartment in the adjacent city of Shenzhen in China, and also failed to disclose a conflict of interest in negotiating rent for the property with his landlord Bill Wong.
Mr Wong is a major shareholder in Digital Broadcasting Corp., which at the time was applying for a broadcast licence in Hong Kong for the now-defunct Wave Radio.
"Today is a very dark day," his wife, Selina Tsang, told reporters after the verdict. She said the family would appeal the conviction.
Mr Tsang was found not guilty of failing to disclose his relationship with an interior designer who refurbished the apartment for over €300,000, whom Mr Tsang later supported for a top city honour.
Mr Tsang was a popular chief executive, known in the city for his preference for wearing bow ties and held in high esteem for helping the city come through the Asian financial crisis.
A devout Catholic and daily communicant, Mr Tsang was close to Cardinal Joseph Zen, who was bishop of Hong Kong during Mr Tsang's term as chief executive, even though they differed publicly on political issues, especially in relation to China.
Many leading figures in the territory had sent letters testifying to Mr Tsang’s character.
Towards the end of his time in office, media reports of sleaze began to surface and there were tales of yacht parties with tycoons and extravagant overseas trips.
The maximum penalty was seven years, and the judge said he had reduced Mr Tsang’s sentence by 10 months because of his record of 40 years of public service.
The jury failed to reach a verdict on a third charge that he accepted a bribe related to the refurbishment and the judge tentatively set a retrial for September.
In one month’s time, a committee of Beijing-friendly political insiders will choose the city’s leader for the next five years.
The jailing of Donald Tsang comes at a time when there are fears that the high degree of autonomy under the “One Country, Two Systems” arrangement left behind by the British after the return to China in 1997 is under threat.
Incidents such as the apparent abduction of booksellers critical of China into mainland custody, as well as the recent disappearance of a Chinese tycoon who later reappeared across the border ‘helping with enquiries’, has raised fears that Hong Kong’s freedom are under threat.
Observers have said the sentence reflects the continued independence of the judiciary in Hong Kong. Earlier this month, seven Hong Kong police were jailed for two years for beating a pro-democracy protester during the Occupy demonstrations.
The case against Mr Tsang was brought against him by the territory's anti-graft agency, the Independent Commission Against Corruption.
While Hong Kong regularly scores highly as a corruption-free city, the Tsang incident is the latest in a series of scandals about abuse of power among the territory’s elite.
Mr Tsang's right-hand man, Rafael Hui was sentenced to seven and a half years in jail in late 2014 for receiving bribes from one of Hong Kong's largest property developers.
Additional reporting: agencies