Judge urges probe after deported thief slips into Hong Kong 40 times
A serial shoplifter from Macau who had been deported for life from Hong Kong evaded security checks to visit the city more than 40 times in two years, court papers show.
The disclosure led a Court of First Instance judge to criticise security lapses, and to urge the government to plug loopholes in the system.
'This is unsatisfactory,' wrote Deputy Judge Albert Wong Sung-hau, commenting on the fact that many deportees could enter the city even without having to use a false identity.
However, a spokesman for the Immigration Department said that when Chao Sam-I entered Hong Kong last year, she used a different name and a different date of birth.
'It seems to me that the immigration officers may not have sufficient information to enable them to stop deportees from entering Hong Kong,' Wong wrote in a judgment handed down yesterday.
'Enforcement of deportation orders should not rely on the self-discipline of deportees. If that's the case then it's little more than frivolous,' the judge wrote in Chinese.
His criticism stemmed from an appeal filed by Chao against a 15-month jail term imposed on her for breaching a deportation order issued in 2004 after she committed a string of thefts.
Despite the lifetime expulsion order, Chao has been able to get past security more than 40 times since 2009. The 49-year-old cleaner was barred from entering Hong Kong for good after being convicted of shoplifting in March 2004.
Her many illegal visits to the city only came to light when she was arrested again in August this year for stealing 12 bottles of perfume worth HK$4,000 from a cosmetics shop.
She was jailed by the Kowloon City Court for a total of 21 months for that offence and for breaching the deportation order. Chao has a lengthy criminal record, including four previous theft charges.
But Wong reduced the term to 20 months and 20 days, saying the magistrate in the case had miscalculated Chao's sentence.
During the appeal hearing, Chao told the court that she was led to believe that the deportation order was no longer in force after her first unobstructed visit to Hong Kong in 2009 to attend her daughter's wedding.
Based on this, Chao believed that the order expired after five years.
Since then, she has visited Hong Kong more than 40 times without a problem, according to the document.
'The fact that she was lucky enough to get through security cannot be used as an excuse to say that the order had expired,' wrote Wong, the judge. 'Obviously, she did not tell the officer that a deportation order had been imposed on her.'
Wong asked prosecutors to press authorities for an overhaul of the immigration system to ensure deportees could not 'slip through the net' in the future.
The Chief Executive may make a deportation order against an immigrant found guilty of an offence punishable by a prison sentence of at least two years.
The Immigration Department spokesman said it would investigate whether the case involved the use of forged documents, as deportees' data are stored on a database.
The number of cases of forged immigration documents detected by the government last year, up from 1,207 in 2009