Disgraced former Hong Kong leader Donald Tsang Yam-kuen said he had put aside his anger and hatred and had only gratitude in his heart as he tasted freedom again on Tuesday after completing a 12-month jail term for misconduct in public office.
Tsang, 74, appeared to be in good spirits as he was discharged from Queen Mary Hospital’s custodial ward in the morning, vowing to soldier on with his final appeal against his conviction, scheduled at the city’s top court in May.
He thanked his supporters for standing by him through thick and thin, and expressed his desire for a life away from the public eye with his wife, Selina Tsang Pou Siu-mei, who held his hand as he faced the media pack waiting for him.
“From today onwards,” he declared with a smile, “I can go home and reunite with my family and spend my ordinary and tranquil retirement life with my wife.”
Tsang’s first public exchange with the media in months was not without tough questions. He was asked how he felt about prosecutors’ recent decision not to press charges against his successor, Leung Chun-ying, over dropped corruption allegations in a separate investigation.
“I would not make such a comparison, if you don't mind, as it would remind me of the anger and hatred in my heart,” Tsang, a devout Catholic, said.
“I tried my utmost to clear these emotions a few months ago by praying and through God’s blessings. There is only one thing in my heart today: gratitude.”
Once again sporting his trademark bow tie, the city’s former top official, who was taken to hospital from jail last Friday, said his time in prison had taken its toll on his health, but he kept his tone light-hearted.
“I’m 74 years of age, I must have something wrong with me,” he said, adding that he had no terminal illness, although he would have to return to hospital on Friday for more check-ups.
Tsang said the first thing he wanted to do as a free man was spend time chatting with his wife of 50 years, and that he longed for “a cup of much-missed coffee”.
“We only got to meet once a week through the glass with someone listening. I just want to talk to her,” he said.
While looking forward to returning to church daily, he also spoke of the battle ahead in his final attempt to clear his name, saying that seeking justice in Hong Kong, with its rule of law, required perseverance.
Last July, Tsang was sent back to the maximum-security Stanley Prison after losing his bid at the Court of Appeal to clear his name although his sentence was cut from the original 20 months to a year.
The Court of Final Appeal will hear his last appeal on May 14.
There is only one thing in my heart today: gratitude
Donald Tsang, former chief executive
His case revolved around a luxury three-storey penthouse – owned indirectly by businessman Bill Wong Cho-bau – in Shenzhen’s fashionable Futian district. Tsang was in negotiations with Wong to rent the property for his retirement.
Tsang allowed himself to be compromised in a conflict of interest, prosecutors successfully argued, because he failed to disclose the deal during his time in office, even though he was in charge of granting various licences to local radio station Wave Media, also owned largely by Wong.
Tsang, who suffers from asthma, was taken to Queen Mary Hospital in Pok Fu Lam on Friday night, though it was unclear what treatment he received. He was sent to hospital on several occasions after his conviction.
A Correctional Services Department spokesman said inmates in hospital up until their release day would be freed from there rather than prison. He added that if further treatment was needed the inmate would be transferred from the custodial ward to other wards.
Following his conviction in 2017, Tsang served part of his sentence, but was granted bail two months later pending his appeal. He then spent about six more months behind bars after the appeal court setback last July.
Tsang spent less than a year in prison after holidays and good behaviour were taken into account.
Over the past two years, Tsang faced two trials, during which he was acquitted of one corruption charge, while two different juries failed to reach a verdict on a second corruption charge.
Upon his release, the former chief executive regained his perks, including bodyguards and chauffeur services. About six of his bodyguards, in black suits and blue ties, were at the hospital before his departure.
The career civil servant, who spent more than four decades in public service, is still entitled to his pension of HK$80,000 (US$10,200) a month.
Some have questioned whether Tsang should keep privileges provided to former chief executives if he fails to overturn his conviction.
A spokesman for the Constitutional and Mainland Affairs Bureau earlier said: “If any individual former chief executive cannot perform the promotional and protocol-related functions … the government will redeploy the relevant resources for other appropriate usage during the period.”