Hong Kong’s anti-corruption watchdog has launched an investigation into Donald Tsang, the territory’s chief executive, following allegations that he received inappropriate favours from local business tycoons such as overseas trips on private jets, staying on luxury yachts and leasing an apartment for below market price.

Mr Tsang said that he had never acted against the law nor breached internal rules, and that he would fully co-operate with any investigation if contacted by the Independent Commission Against Corruption.

Avery Ng, vice-chairman of the League of Social Democrats, a pro-democracy party, said: “The ICAC has informed us that they are looking into the trips and the leasing of the apartment after we lodged a complaint against Mr Tsang.” The ICAC refused to comment.

The investigation comes at a sensitive time for Hong Kong. On March 25, Mr Tsang’s successor will be elected by a group of 1,200 eligible voters. Of the two most favoured candidates, Leung Chun-ying is leading the opinion polls because he is seen to be more detached from local conglomerates than his scandal-hit rival Henry Tang.

A group of Hong Kong legislators is also agitating to impeach Mr Tsang before he steps down in June over the same allegations, although it has almost no chance of succeeding.

Reports of the chief executive’s cosy relationship with the business elite have triggered a public outcry as Hong Kong people are increasingly angered by the widening gulf between the rich and the poor as well as the lack of transparency over the way big business influences government policies.

Mr Tsang became chief executive in 2005 when his predecessor Tung Chee-hwa was forced to step down in the middle of his second term after a million people took to the street to protest against unpopular policies.

A career civil servant since the colonial era, Mr Tsang had seen his popularity plunge in recent years as the public became disillusioned by the perception of growing collusion between government and business, said Ma Ngok, professor of public administration at the Chinese University of Hong Kong.

Last week, the Oriental Daily newspaper reported that Mr Tsang and his wife recently took an overnight trip to Macao on one of three luxury yachts owned by Charles Ho, the owner of Sing Tao News Corp and Thomas Lau, a property developer. Since then, other reports claimed that the couple flew to Phuket in a private jet owned by mainland Chinese property tycoon Zhang Songqiao.

He has also agreed to rent a three-floor, 6,500 sq ft penthouse owned by Wong Cho-bau, a mainland Chinese businessman, allegedly below market rate.

Mr Tsang has admitted to taking a number of private jet and yacht trips offered by friends but said he did nothing wrong as he had paid the costs of standard commercial fares for the journeys. He also insists he is paying market rate with no concession for the penthouse, which he and his wife will move in to upon his retirement.

With less than a month to go until the vote for Hong Kong’s next leader, the field of potential chief executives has been narrowing. On Wednesday, legislator Regina Ip announced that she had failed to secure enough nominations, while Jasper Tsang, former head of Hong Kong’s largest political party, also bowed out of the race on Monday.

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