Head of 'illegal' Arab chamber will not budge

PUBLISHED : Sunday, 30 March, 2008, 12:00am
UPDATED : Sunday, 30 March, 2008, 12:00am

The head of the Arab Chamber of Commerce and Industry, Edwin Hitti, has hit back at Arab consulates that say his organisation is illegal and does not represent them.

Mr Hitti said there was no law to stop him running his chamber and he has no intention of deregistering the body or changing its name, despite prominent Arab consulates urging Chief Executive Donald Tsang Yam-kuen to take action.

The feud between the Arab world's representatives in Hong Kong and the Lebanese businessman's organisation has become increasingly acrimonious and comes as the city formulates grand plans to attract Middle East business.

Saudi consul general Alaudeen Alaskary has said the chamber could damage relations between the Middle East and Hong Kong.

Mr Alaskary wants it deregistered or the name changed, saying it does not represent Arabs in Hong Kong and has not sought approval from Arab governments.

The United Arab Emirate's consul general, Saeed Hamad Ali al-Junaibi, has also said the consulate does not represent UAE Arabs, as has the consulate general of Egypt in relation to Egyptians.

Mr Hitti, who has claimed he will sue the UAE consul general for defamation for allegedly saying he is not a Muslim, said his chamber had about 100 members, including prominent bodies such as InvestHK.

'It is not a business, it does not belong to me,' he said of the chamber.

Mr Hitti said that in the Arab world, chambers of commerce were divisions of government, whereas in Hong Kong they were independent bodies, which the consuls did not seem to accept.

'Do you know of any country called 'Arabia'?' he asked. 'Arab-speaking culture pertains to a language, pertains to a certain geographic region, it does not pertain to a specific country. This is a chamber that is dealing with Hong Kong companies with interests in dealing with the Arab world.'

But a spokesman for the Saudi consulate general said it still wanted the government to act against the Arab chamber.

A government spokeswoman said last week the chamber was not a registered company so deregistration under the companies ordinance was 'out of the question'.

But an officer with the Police Licensing Office confirmed the Arab Chamber of Commerce and Industry was registered as a society on November 15, 2006.

Damien Bailey, corporate practice partner at the law firm Simmons & Simmons, said any deregistration of a society would have to go through the Secretary for Security, Ambrose Lee Siu-kwong.

Mr Bailey said that under the Societies Ordinance, the Commissioner of Police could recommend a society be prohibited from operating on the basis that it was a threat to national security, to protect the rights of others, or if the society was a foreign political organisation.

'They can cancel the registration of the society and it would be an offence if they continued to operate, with criminal or financial penalties,' he said.