Hong Kong chief executive Donald Tsang Yam-kuen made a public apology during an emotional speech at the Legislative Council Thursday for accepting overseas travel freebies and renting a luxury flat in Shenzhen.
"The chain of events has created worries among the public, civil servants and legislators, and shaken the public's faith in Hong Kong's system," he said. "For this I sincerely apologize."
In recent weeks, media reports on Tsang's alleged mixing of politics and business had caused a public outcry.
Donald Tsang Yam-kuen is the first chief executive to be probed by the Independent Commission Against Corruption (ICAC) during his tenure.
He has been criticized by legislators for accepting trips to Macau and Phuket, Thailand, on businessmen's yachts and jets. He also failed to declare a penthouse he rented in Shenzhen from a real estate tycoon.
Tsang was elected as the city's chief executive in 2006, with his term set to end on June 30. The election for Hong Kong's next chief executive will be held on March 25.
"I have been a civil servant for over 45 years in Hong Kong, and I have learned a big lesson. After consulting with my wife, we will give up our flat in Shenzhen," Tsang said. He paused three times during his 15-minute speech and appeared to be sobbing.
He also promised to fully cooperate with the independent review by the ICAC into his allegations. A special probe panel, headed by Court of Final Appeal judge Andrew Li Kwok-nang, will also investigate the case.
Despite his apology, legislator and former secretary for security Regina Ip, also a candidate for the upcoming chief executive election, told reporters that Tsang's double standards had embarrassed civil servants.
Legislator Paul Tse Wai-chun is seeking support to try and impeach Tsang for dereliction of duty. He said he was confident about garnering the support of the required 14 legislators to start the impeachment process. If he does, the motion could be tabled in the Legislative Council on March 21.
Legislator and Liberal party chairwoman Miriam Lau Kin-yee told the Global Times that the chief executive should step down from his government duties during the ICAC investigation.
"To restore faith toward Hong Kong's institution, Tsang should free himself from official duties," she said.
Andrew So, a professor of politics with the Chinese University of Hong Kong, said that the ICAC investigation into Tsang would not be enough to rebuild public trust.
"The public is shocked and angry," he said. "Tsang will step down in four months but the harm is done. A responsible politician should now take the cue and resign."