Former Hong Kong Chief Executive Donald Tsang arrives at court with his wife Selina before being jailed for misconduct in public office. February 20, 2017. REUTERS/Bobby Yip

A Hong Kong court on Monday granted bail to former leader Donald Tsang Yam-kuen, who was jailed in February for 20 months for misconduct in public office.

Tsang, who appeared in court in his signature bow-tie and with hair that had greyed since his incarceration, was granted bail pending an appeal against his conviction and was released on a cash bail of HK$100,000 (US$12,900).

Hong Kong’s former chief executive was transferred to court from a custodial ward in hospital where he had been taken from the city’s Stanley Prison earlier this month after complaining of breathing problems.

Police bodyguards from Hong Kong’s VIP Protection Unit – responsible for the personal safety of former and current chief executives – appeared at the court buildings, signalling Tsang’s imminent release.

After the court granted him bail, Tsang acknowledged his supporters and spoke of his anguish since his sentencing.

“During this time of course my heart experienced many heartaches that cannot be described in writing,” Tsang told Hong Kong media.

“But … I still believe in Hongkongers, I still love Hong Kong. Thank you all.”

The 72-year-old thanked his legal team, the public and religious groups in Canada, Hong Kong and the UK, for their support and sympathy.

“They believed that I was innocent.” He also praised his prison guards.

“This proves that Hong Kong is a rule of law society,” Tsang said. “Our law enforcement officers are impartial and just. I am particularly respectful towards them.”

The former chief executive had faced two charges of misconduct and one charge of bribery.

The jurors entered a majority verdict of one charge of misconduct, Tsang was cleared of another charge of misconduct and the jury could not reach a decision on whether Tsang was guilty of accepting advantage. He is expected to be retried on that charge in September.

The devout Catholic is the most senior city official to serve time behind bars, bringing an ignominious end to what had been a long and distinguished career, before and after the 1997 handover of the former British colony to Chinese rule.