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Hong Kong Won’t File Charges in Scandal

December 15, 2003

HONG KONG (AP) _ Prosecutors said Monday that former Financial Secretary Antony Leung acted improperly in a car-purchase scandal that cost him his job, but they won’t file charges because they doubt they could get a conviction.

Leung was investigated for allegedly having abused his office when he saved thousands of dollars by purchasing a Lexus just before he raised auto registration taxes, but the director of public prosecutions, Grenville Cross, said no case will be brought.

It was not clear that Leung had sought to evade taxes or that he had illegally covered up the matter afterward, Cross said.

``If the evidence was there, I would have prosecuted him,″ Cross told a news conference.

Critics immediately charged that Chief Executive Tung Chee-hwa’s government had shown favoritism _ an allegation that emerged previously when Hong Kong opted against indicting a well-connected publisher in a circulation fraud case, even though she was identified as a co-conspirator.

``It gives the impression that the decision was biased and made to protect Tung’s ally,″ said Albert Chan, a pro-democracy lawmaker. ``It deals a big blow to Hong Kong’s rule of law.″

Cross disputed such concerns, saying he had approached the case with an open mind and sought outside views from two prominent attorneys _ one from Britain and the other from Hong Kong _ and both advised against prosecution.

Cross said that it would have been impossible to prove in court that Leung had set out to avoid taxes while he was planning to raise them for others in Hong Kong.

Leung appears to have committed misconduct when he realized there had been a problem with the car purchase and failed to disclose it to Tung’s Executive Council, but it was apparently because he wanted ``to save himself possible embarrassment and nothing more sinister than that,″ Cross said.

Leung bought a new Lexus in January and then raised auto taxes in March. The timing saved him $24,359. He called it an oversight and tried to make amends by donating money to charity, but critics insisted there was a conflict of interest.

Leung bought the Lexus while his wife, Chinese Olympic gold medalist ``diving queen″ Fu Mingxia, was expecting their first child _ and it’s possible that was all that was on his mind, as he claimed, Cross said.

The couple also had a Porsche and a Toyota Land Cruiser, but Leung said neither was well suited for getting in and out with a baby. The government also provided Leung with a BMW, and Fu could have used it, too, but not while Leung needed it for official duties.

Leung did not immediately react to the news that he was off the hook.

He resigned on July 16 after Hong Kong’s anti-graft agency completed a probe into the ``cargate″ scandal and handed the findings to prosecutors.

A prosecution of a former Tung Cabinet member would have been unprecedented, but officials insisted from the outset that Leung’s case would be handled like any other.

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