Government to address rendition case this week
Lana Lam and Simpson Cheung
The government will deliver a 'substantive reply' this week to allegations about its controversial role in a rendition scandal which saw a Libyan terrorist suspect, his wife and four children forcibly returned to their homeland, where he faced six years of torture and persecution, in 2004.
It will be the first time Hong Kong directly addresses allegations that it colluded with US and British secret services since the case emerged last September after Sami al-Saadi was freed by rebels from one of the late Libyan leader Muammar Gaddafi's prisons in Tripoli.
Last month, Saadi's Hong Kong lawyers at Ho, Tse, Wai & Partners sent a pre-action letter to the Department of Justice, demanding answers about the government's role in his and his family's arrest, detention, interrogation and forced repatriation.
Saadi has also launched legal action against Britain's spy agencies, the Home Office and Foreign Office for their role in his rendition.
In a response dated June 26, senior government counsel Daphne Yeung said the Department of Justice was 'taking instructions on the matters raised in your said letter concerning an alleged incident that took place in or around March 2004'.
'Given the lapse of time of more than seven years, understandably, our client requires more time to look into the matter,' the letter stated. It promised a reply by Tuesday.
Yeung also urged Saadi's lawyers to withhold legal action and an application for pre-action disclosure until after the department had responded, to save time and money.
Hong Kong's alleged role in the rendition scandal was detailed in top secret papers unearthed at the headquarters of Gaddafi's intelligence chief Moussa Koussa after Tripoli fell to rebels last August.
The documents, which refer to Saadi by his nom de guerre, Abu Munthir, and link him to al-Qaeda training camps, specifically listed Stanley Ying Yiu-hong, the permanent secretary for security at the time, as a key contact to ensure the rendition was carried out successfully.
Last month, former secretary for security Ambrose Lee Siu-kwong was the first government official to acknowledge the matter publicly.
Speaking at his retirement tea gathering, Lee said he had spoken to colleagues about the case. 'Because there is a legal proceeding, I cannot say anything as it may affect the court procedure,' he said.
Beijing's foreign ministry has previously defended Hong Kong's role in the controversial case, saying local authorities had 'full authority and discretion' to grant permission to people to enter or leave the city.
In March, Saadi's British legal team requested flight details from the Civil Aviation Department for an Egyptian-chartered plane that took Saadi and his family from Chep Lap Kok to Tripoli, but officials said all data was destroyed after 90 days.
Saadi was reportedly a chief strategist for the Libyan Islamic Fighting Group, which opposed Gaddafi. For 16 years, he lived in exile, including a 10-year stint in Britain.
Saadi sought refuge in Guangzhou in 2003 as relations between Libya and Britain shifted. But in early 2004, he made plans to seek asylum in Norway. The family was detained on arrival in Hong Kong and flown back to Britain before being bundled on the plane to Tripoli.