Hong Kong authorities have launched an investigation into the wife of the man seen as China’s preferred choice to become the city’s next leader over an illegal “underground palace” at her home.
In the biggest blow to his campaign so far, former Hong Kong chief secretary for administration Henry Tang (唐英年) came under pressure to quit the race for the chief executive after an unauthorized basement den covering 209m2 was found at the upmarket house.
Local media dubbed the basement an “underground palace,” which reportedly featured a wine cellar, entertainment suite and a workout room.
Many of Hong Kong’s 7 million people live in spaces a quarter of that size.
The city’s buildings department has given the Tangs a week to remove the illegal structures, but it announced late on Friday that it would probe Tang’s wife, Lisa Kuo (郭妤淺), and others under offenses of “knowingly” contravening the law, which requires that approval is obtained before building work starts.
The department did not specifically name Tang, who co-owned the house with Kuo until 2010. Those found guilty under the offense face up to two years in prison and a fine.
The 59-year-old Tang tendered a public apology on Thursday after saying the illegal structure was his wife’s idea, a scandal that angered Hong Kongers, with some saying his credibility was “bankrupt.”
The avid wine collector, who is the former No. 2 in the city’s government, refused to quit the March 25 chief executive polls.
Tang’s campaign was already beset by his frequent verbal gaffes and opinion polls putting him well behind his main rival, former government adviser Leung Chun-ying (梁振英).
Tang has the support of the city’s powerful business tycoons, but his campaign got off to a shaky start late last year when he publicly admitted to cheating on Kuo, his wife of 27 years.
A 1,200-member Electoral Committee packed with pro-Beijing notables will choose the next chief executive on March 25, replacing Hong Kong Chief Executive Donald Tsang (曾蔭權), whose mandate is ending.