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HK 'leader-to-be' in basement row

The man widely seen as Hong Kong's next leader is embroiled in a controversy over a luxurious but illegal basement extension that is worrying his backers in Beijing.

Henry Tang said he was sorry, but resisted growing pressure to drop out of the race after reporters unearthed sketches that revealed the unauthorised 2,400-square-foot (200-square-metre) underground addition included plush features such as a wine cellar and home theatre.

Local newspapers dubbed it the "underground palace" and splashed blueprints and photos on their front pages of the sleek and modern house, owned by Tang's wife and set in a walled compound in an upmarket Kowloon neighbourhood.

Reporters thronged the street outside, with several renting cranes to get a better view of a courtyard swimming pool that has windows on its floor looking into the basement extension.

Tang blamed the oversight on his wife, Lisa Kuo, who tried to hold back tears as she stood next to him while apologising in front of reporters.

Kuo said she oversaw the planning and renovation of the house because her husband was too busy with work.

People who build without planning permission face a fine of up to 400,000 Hong Kong dollars (£32,600) or up to two years in prison. Building officers have not said yet if any charges will be filed.

Tang was widely tipped early on as Beijing's preferred choice to take over from Hong Kong Chief Executive Donald Tsang, who steps down in July.

The next chief executive will be picked in March by a 1,200-member committee packed with Beijing loyalists.

Polls have shown consistently that Tang's main rival, Leung Chun-ying, is much more popular with the public.

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From Belfast Telegraph