Fugitive law to be cut back: Nine commercial offenses exempted from extradition - but bribery remains

Top News | Amy Nip and Cindy Wan 27 Mar 2019

Nine offenses including white-collar crimes related to tax and bankruptcy are to be exempted from the extradition law amendment, the government says.

The amendment bill seeks to confine handover of fugitives to areas not covered by extradition agreements with Hong Kong, including the mainland and Taiwan.

But it has raised concerns locally and in the European Union and United States as people fear the change would allow political activists and businessmen unfamiliar with mainland laws to be handed over across the border.

The Executive Council endorsed an amendment bill yesterday confining such handovers to offenses punishable by at least three years' imprisonment in Hong Kong, Secretary for Security John Lee Ka-chiu said yesterday.

The bill covers 37 types of offenses listed in the Fugitive Offenders Ordinance, such as murder, wounding, rape, drug trafficking and smuggling.

However, nine types of offenses, many of them white-collar crimes that sparked worries in the business sector, are excluded.

These include offenses related to bankruptcy, tax, securities and futures trading. Laws relating to companies, including offenses committed by directors, are excluded.

Offenses against laws related to protection of intellectual property, environmental pollution, international transfer of funds and misleading trade descriptions are excluded.

Crimes connected to unlawful use of computers are also ticked out.

But bribery, a key offense that has raised concern among businessmen, is still covered in the amendment bill. Asked if the government is biased toward the business sector and giving heed to their concerns, Lee said many of the nine types of offense apply to individuals too.

"Anyone can trade in securities and futures - so is the international transfer of funds," he said.

The proposed changes to the law were sparked by a Hong Kong teenager allegedly killing his girlfriend in Taiwan and absconding home last year.

As there is no extradition agreement between Hong Kong and Taiwan, he could not be handed over across the strait.

It would be difficult to charge him with murder in Hong Kong, unless he admitted planning it in the city. As a result, Chief Executive Carrie Lam Cheng Yuet-ngor said the government made the amendment proposal as an act of compassion.

She rejected allegations that the amendment is a plan to strengthen national security before the city enacts Article 23 of the Basic Law.

But she did not directly respond to Taiwan's Mainland Affairs Council issuing a travel alert to Taiwanese traveling to Hong Kong in case the amendment passed, due to risks that they could be handed over to mainland.

"Taiwan sought help from us [over the murder case] several times. I didn't make it up," she said.

Lee said once the amendment is passed, Hong Kong will discuss how to cooperate with Taiwan on the case "pragmatically."

Besides the murder case, it is equally important to plug loopholes arising from the lack of extradition agreements with many countries, including Japan, he said.

"If a male tour member sexually assaulted another member during a trip, we cannot deal with it in Hong Kong," Lee said, adding there would be a similar problem with theft.

Under the proposal, the chief executive can issue a certificate to trigger requests for provisional arrests and surrender of fugitives.

The certificate would not finalize the surrender of a fugitive, which should be decided in a court hearing.

Secretary for Security John Lee Ka-chiu said the Department of Justice will judge whether the offenses in the extradition application by other jurisdictions are considered offenses in Hong Kong.

The SAR can include additional requirements to ensure fair trial of the fugitives before handing them over.

On why the government chose not to remove bribery from the list, Lee said Hong Kong is obliged to combat bribery according to the United Nations Convention against Corruption.

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