Rates to smuggle out fugitives range from $1m to $10m a head

Top News | Staff reporter 2 Sep 2020

The 12 Hong Kong fugitives arrested by Guangdong coast guards late last month while trying to flee to Taiwan paid as much as HK$1 million each for the unsuccessful escape, according to a smuggler.

The cost of human smuggling from the SAR to Taiwan by sea had surged from HK$100,000 to nearly HK$1 million per head, Ah Sai told Eastweek magazine, The Standard's sister publication.

"I knew from last year that many youngsters who joined the anti-fugitive bill movement had escaped to Taiwan by sea. The price was HK$100,000 back then," Ah Sai said.

He said the cost later tripled as there were fewer vessels at sea during the fishing moratorium between May and mid August, with the pandemic making things worse.

"To be honest, the price is not fixed," Ah Sai said. "It depends on who the middleman [between smugglers and stowaways] is and how risky the trip is."

He used Next Digital founder Jimmy Lai Chee-ying, who allegedly breached the national security law, as an example, saying: "He would be charged at least HK$10 million."

Another source said supporters of the protests and middlemen who were acquainted with smugglers had formed an "escape group" last September.

The source said the price rose again recently due to travel restrictions amid the pandemic and increasing mainland and local maritime police actions.

He explained that there were three boarding locations for such activities in Sai Kung - Wong Shek Pier, West Dam of High Island Reservoir and Po Toi O Pier.

While the first two were frequently used until earlier this year, he added, the last one had recently become more preferable, including for the 12 Hongkongers arrested last month.

As for getaway routes, fugitives have two choices, including taking a speedboat to leave Hong Kong waters and then heading to Xiamen via a fishing boat. From there, they could sail to Kinmen in Taiwan.

The other is taking a route via the Pratas Islands, or Dongsha Islands, which is located southeast of Hong Kong and guarded by Taiwanese military forces, before heading to Pingtung in Taiwan.

Last month's group included activist Andy Li Yu-hin, who had been arrested alongside Lai on suspicion of foreign collusion and money laundering.

Other fugitives were Cheung Ming-yu, Yim Man-him and Cheung Chun-fu, who were members of the radical protester group Dragon Slayers.

The trio were linked to a home-made bomb left outside Wah Yan College, Wan Chai, in December.

Kok Tsz-lun, who is also a Dragon Slayers member, was caught on the escape boat as well. He faced charges in connection with a protest at Polytechnic University in November.

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