Disqualified Hong Kong lawmaker Leung Kwok-hung has been acquitted of a charge of misconduct in public office following his failure to declare a donation from pro-democracy media tycoon Jimmy Lai.
The veteran League of Social Democrats (LSD) activist had been charged by the Independent Commission Against Corruption (ICAC) last June for failing to disclose to the legislature the HK$250,000 payment. He received the donation in 2012 through Lai’s assistant Mark Simon.
In Monday’s ruling, District Court judge Alex Lee said that he had suspicions concerning Leung’s conduct in receiving Lai’s payment.
“However… I cannot be sure that the [payment] was for the defendant personally as a LegCo member rather than a payment which he had received on the LSD’s behalf,” he wrote.
“As such, the benefit of doubt goes to the defendant.”
Judge Lee added that the government did not allege that Leung was corrupt, and did not seek to argue that the donation was made in order for Leung to favour Lai’s business.
In a press release, pro-democracy lawmaker and former ICAC official Lam Cheuk-ting said he could not understand why Leung was prosecuted in the first place.
“In particular, the defence had evidence to prove that Leung accepted the funds on behalf of the LSD,” he said. “The prosecution did not have evidence to argue against that.”
Lam added that former chief executive Leung Chun-ying should be prosecuted under the same principle for failing to declare his acceptance of an HK$50 million payment from Australian firm UGL.
Two dozen pro-democracy activists including lawmakers Tanya Chan and Shiu Ka-chun – also facing government lawsuits – gathered outside the Wan Chai court building before the verdict on Monday morning. They condemned what they called a politically-motivated government prosecution against Leung, but were countered by a similar number of pro-Beijing protesters calling for his imprisonment.
Two weeks ago, 61-year-old Leung was disqualified from his legislative seat by the High Court alongside three of his pro-democracy colleagues due to the way he took his oath of office. A total of six opposition lawmakers elected last September have been ousted as a result of government lawsuits, after Beijing produced a retroactive interpretation of Hong Kong’s Basic Law last November to clarify how they should have taken their oaths.
However, he is also facing a criminal charge of contempt for having taken files from a government official last November. He has moreover appealed a seven-day jail sentence for conducting a protest against then-chief secretary Carrie Lam inside Queen Elizabeth Stadium as a secondary school debating contest was held in 2015. He will attend court proceedings for both cases this month.
According to the Legislative Council Ordinance, an individual jailed for three months or declared bankrupt cannot stand for election for five years.