HK sweats over extraditions

PUBLISHED : Sunday, 11 April, 2004, 12:00am
UPDATED : Sunday, 11 April, 2004, 12:00am

The option of lodging objections to the release of bribery suspects has been hindered as other suspects in Australia await rulings

Hong Kong authorities have been holding back from making a formal protest to Australia over its refusal to hand over two men wanted on bribery charges while they await a decision by Australian Justice Minister Chris Ellison on four other high-profile extraditions.

Senator Ellison sparked a diplomatic row in October by refusing to surrender Carl Voight and David Hendy, two Australian engineers wanted in Hong Kong on bribery and corruption charges in relation to a short-piling scandal. His decision came in spite of approval of the extradition by the Australian courts. Defying repeated calls for an explanation and political pressure at home, Senator Ellison has refused to explain the unprecedented decision.

For two months, Chief Executive Tung Chee-hwa's office has been considering a confidential Department of Justice file which outlines a series of options - including an official protest to Australian Prime Minister John Howard. But no decision has yet been made, while law enforcement officials await a ruling from Senator Ellison on an unrelated request for the surrender of alleged fraudster Ng Ship-ping and Francis Kan Wai-yuen, who is wanted on theft charges.

Both men have been arrested in Australia. Arrests are yet to be made in two other extradition-related cases.

'Hong Kong currently has four pending requests to the minister for surrender,' a spokeswoman for the Department of Justice said. 'The department is hopeful of smooth co-operation in these cases.'

But some officials fear the earlier setback may have set a precedent. 'The government is examining the details of the Carl Voigt and David Hendy case,' a spokesman for the chief executive said. 'There has not been any new development on the case.'

The pending decision on the extradition request for Ng mirrors the Voigt and Hendy case in that it stemmed from an Independent Commission Against Corruption investigation into bribery and corruption charges, and has also been cleared by Australian courts.

Ng, who remains in custody, has subsequently made representations to Senator Ellison opposing his surrender. The submissions are still being considered. Ng is wanted by the ICAC on 25 charges of accepting an advantage as an agent in relation to unauthorised commissions taken as an employee of Customs Accessories Asia from suppliers to the company.

The request for surrender was made in March last year and Ng was found eligible for extradition by the courts in Australia seven months later.

Kan is wanted by Hong Kong Police on 20 charges of theft from Targray Asia, where he was employed as a sales manager. Following an Interpol alert, Kan was arrested in Australia, where he also remains in custody. Hong Kong authorities made the request for surrender in November and proceedings remain before the courts in Australia. Details of the two remaining cases, in which no arrests have yet been made, are being kept confidential.