Row over rendition case deadline
Justice officials say they need until December to respond to allegations that Hong Kong security chiefs conspired with the British and US secret services to deport a Libyan dissident to his homeland in 2004 - but lawyers preparing to sue the government have set an October deadline.
For the first time since the controversial case of a secret rendition flight involving the Hong Kong government came to light last September, the Department of Justice confirmed it was investigating the claims.
In a letter to the lawyers representing Sami al-Saadi - who alleges authorities in Hong Kong forced him and his family onto a Tripoli-bound plane and back into the hands of the late Libyan dictator Muammar Gaddafi - the department said last week that it needed more time before it could respond to the allegations.
'We are instructed that, given the long lapse of time in this matter, more time is required to look into the matter,' senior government counsel Daphne Yeung wrote.
The department said in the letter that it needed until December 12 to address the detailed claims outlined in a pre-action letter Saadi's legal team in Hong Kong sent in June.
Jonathan Man from, Ho, Tse, Wai & Partners, has rejected the request and written to the department saying that he and his partners expect the government to reply to the allegations by October.
Man said he was being lenient by allowing an extension of another three months. 'I understand they need more time because it happened years ago but they have to seriously respond to the merits of our case,' he said.
The department's letter also raised the issue of the limitation period in civil law suits. In public injury cases such as Saadi's, a victim must launch legal action within three years of the incident. However, Man said the limitation period in Saadi's case should start when the details first emerged: in this case last September when secret documents were unearthed at the abandoned Tripoli headquarters of Gaddafi's intelligence chief.
The documents named Stanley Ying Yiu-hong, permanent secretary for security at the time, as the key contact to ensure the rendition was executed quickly and smoothly.
A spokesman for the Security Bureau refused to answer any questions in the case, saying 'we do not comment on individual cases'.
Saadi has also launched legal action against Britain's spy agencies, the Home Office and Foreign Office for their alleged role in his rendition.
Lawyer Cori Crider from legal charity Reprieve, which is representing Saadi in the UK, said she hoped the Hong Kong justice department's response would be a substantial one.
'What I hope we won't see is the same 'neither confirm nor deny' rubbish we got out of the UK,' Crider told the Sunday Morning Post.
'When you have documents not only implicating Hong Kong in the renditions but specific individuals within government and business, to not respond properly will just look silly and undermine public confidence in the security services.
'Everyone involved in this mess would do best to come clean quickly and apologise to the Saadis.'
Saadi's legal team has also requested voluntary disclosure of documents in the hope that government departments will turn over papers requested, instead of going through a formal court process which is costly and time consuming. Man also requested justice officials share any other documents they may come across in their investigation. 'This is a sensible step to save more time and money and let all the parties put their cards on the table,' he said.