And Finally

Trouble at home

Property scandals dominate Hong Kong politics

Trouble at home

Short cellar: Henry Tang

When reporters asked Henry Tang, the then frontrunner to become Hong Kong’s next chief executive, about the size of a basement at his city home, he described it as little more than a “hole in the ground to store things”.

That was a miscalculation as the “hole” turns out to contain a wine cellar, a small theatre and a Japanese-style bath, local media claims.

But more of a problem for Tang is that the 2,250 square foot basement – at least four times the size of the average apartment in the city – was built without government approval. The disclosure has heaped further pressure on Tang’s campaign for Hong Kong’s top political job, which is proving more contentious than the territory’s political masters in Beijing will like.

Tang didn’t help matters by then blaming his wife for constructing the cellar. “It was my wife’s idea and I knew they were illegal,” he told the press while his tearful partner, Lisa Kuo, stood beside him. This follows earlier revelations that Tang had “strayed” in his personal life. “Since we were experiencing a low ebb in our marriage I did not handle the matter swiftly. I take full responsibility for the incident,” Tang said. But the press conference only heightened an already dicey situation: many Hongkongers thought the televised humiliation of his wife made Tang look worse, and further damaged him politically.

The scandal is a big setback for Tang and might even blow his chances of becoming chief executive. More than half of those polled by the South China Morning Post said that Tang should quit the race. Worse, nearly 80% doubted his integrity. Apple Daily – another local newspaper – has predicted that CY Leung, Tang’s main rival in the campaign, will win the final vote.

Hong Kong’s media then swiftly moved on to another property-related scandal, this time involving current chief executive, Donald Tsang and his plan to retire to a luxury penthouse apartment in Shenzhen after he steps down.

It may strike some as ironic that Hong Kong’s chief executive would choose neighbouring Shenzhen for his retirement. But judging from the deal it’s not difficult to understand why. Property developer East Pacific, owned by Chinese tycoon Huang Chubiao, told local press that Tsang would pay Rmb80,000 ($12,000) a month for his luxury residence. That sounds like a bargain, especially as the SCMP reckons the developer spent millions on fixtures and fittings (the 6,500 square foot pad has a bamboo garden, a private pool, a cinema and a wine cellar).

The revelations have seen Tsang accused of a conflict of interest. Huang is one of the owners of Digital Broadcasting Corp, a company that won a broadcasting licence in Hong Kong last March. Tsang denied the charge, saying that he will fully cooperate with the territory’s anti-corruption agency. But yesterday he also announced he would no longer take up tenancy of the penthouse.

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