Beijing wants HK to send back 300 fugitives

Top News | Cindy Wan and Phoenix Un 14 Mar 2019

Beijing has a wanted list of more than 300 mainland fugitives who have used Hong Kong as a haven, a former Chinese deputy minister of Public Security said in the capital yesterday.

Chen Zhimin, who held the senior security post from 2009 to 2017, said mainland authorities "have the names of every single one of these people," adding that they were wanted for serious crimes.

He also revealed that mainland authorities have discussed extradition arrangements with their Hong Kong counterparts, including former security secretary Lai Tung-kwok and then-undersecretary John Lee Ka-chiu, when he was in office.

But it was a pity that no consensus had been reached at the time, he said.

Chen, who is now a member of Chinese People's Political Consultative Conference, said Hong Kong had returned to China for more than 20 years but had still not reached an extradition arrangement with the mainland. He urged the SAR to improve, saying many foreign countries and even Taiwan had already reached such agreements with the mainland.

He also said mainland law enforcers always gave their best efforts to locate fugitives from Hong Kong, adding that many had been handed back to the SAR.

Chen dismissed concerns about the mainland's legal system, saying it had become more well established and sound, with authorities acting according to the laws.

Asked to address the concerns of Hong Kong CPPCC members that a fugitive law amendment would adversely affect the city's business environment, Chen said fugitives should be punished if the offenses stemmed from criminal activities.

He also said there was no evidence to support claims that the mainland would package political cases into criminal crimes and demand the return of "fugitives."

He said such concerns were hyped up.

In Hong Kong, Lee - who is now security secretary - said he did not know about the list of the 300 wanted fugitives since the SAR had yet to reach an extradition agreement with the mainland.

He admitted the SAR government had held discussions with mainland authorities before, saying a long-term extradition agreement was a goal they had been striving for.

He said the Security Bureau received around 4,500 submissions from the public during the consultation period for the law amendment suggestion about transfer of fugitives, among which 3,000 submissions were supportive.

In those 1,500 opposing submissions, many condemned the mainland's legal system and voiced concerns that Beijing would demand the return of political fugitives after the law amendment.

Lee said the amendment suggested by the Security Bureau followed the current Mutual Legal Assistance in Criminal Matters Ordinance and Fugitive Offenders Ordinance, which stated that fugitives would only be extradited if the offenses they allegedly committed also violated Hong Kong's laws.

He said fugitives involved in political cases, nationality, race and religion as well as cases that might lead to the death penalty would not be extradited.

Lee stressed that citizens were protected by the principles of common law and, therefore, those who committed an unintentional offense in the mainland would not be extradited.

Moreover, Taiwan's legislative body has passed a motion Tuesday urging its Mainland Affairs Council and Ministry of Justice to communicate and reach a bilateral extradition agreement with the Hong Kong SAR government.

In response, Lee said: "What I am trying to do now is amend our Hong Kong domestic law so that the restriction which prohibited me to talk with Taiwan will be lifted."

He added that he would be very disappointed if justice could not be upheld in the murder case in which the suspect fled to Hong Kong after allegedly killing his girlfriend in Taiwan. "Politics should not override justice," he said.

Legislator James To Kun-sun suspected Chen's definition of "serious crimes," quoting the example of the Nobel Peace Prize laureate Liu Xiaobo who was sentenced to 11 years in prison after being found guilty of inciting subversion of state power. "[Dissident artist] Ai Weiwei was also charged with tax evasion," he said, in regards to Lee's remark that no political and religious crime suspects would be extradited.

Lawmaker Alvin Yeung Ngok-kiu said subverting of state power or harming national security would be considered criminal actions if article 23 was enacted in the future. That would mean political fugitives could be extradited when both the fugitive law amendment and Article 23 enactment were passed by the Legislative Council, he said.

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