HK leader candidate blames wife for ‘palace’

By Beh Lih Yi ,AFP

HONG KONG — Hong Kong chief executive hopeful Henry Tang’s campaign was in disarray Friday after he blamed his wife for what has been dubbed an illegal “underground palace” in one of the couple’s homes. Tang came under pressure to quit the race after local media revealed the illegal basement featuring a wine cellar, a Japanese-style bath, entertainment suite and a workout room at the upmarket residential property. The 59-year-old heir of a textile fortune said the renovation, which had not received approval, was his wife’s idea, after media descended on the house and hired cranes to get a bird’s-eye view of a glass-bottomed swimming pool above the basement. “I apologize to all Hong Kong people,” an emotional Tang told a hastily convened press conference late Thursday. “It was my wife’s idea and I knew they were illegal. Since we were experiencing a low ebb in our marriage … I did not handle the matter swiftly. I take full responsibility for the incident.”

The well-known wine lover however refused to quit the race, saying he should be judged by his business-friendly manifesto. Legal experts said he could face jail over the scandal, making him ineligible for office. His comments — taking responsibility while blaming his wife — left many wondering if the man believed to be Beijing’s favorite for the chief executive job has what it takes to lead the southern banking and trade center. A 1,200-member Electoral Committee packed with pro-Beijing elites will choose the next chief executive on March 25, replacing incumbent Donald Tsang whose mandate is ending. “He has almost lost all his credibility in the whole thing, he lied every day,” Chinese University of Hong Kong political scientist Ma Ngok told AFP, referring to Tang’s earlier description of the area as a “storage” space. “It appears that he’s still trying to canvass Beijing’s support, but based on his credibility it will be very difficult for him to lead Hong Kong for the next five years even if he is elected.” Tang has not yet formally nominated himself for the chief executive job. The deadline is Feb. 29.