Hong Kong court shows leniency to four mainland Chinese tourists caught using bogus visas
Noting that all four had not known about forged documents, magistrate sentences each to two months’ jail, a fraction of usual punishment for such offences
Four mainland tourists who were caught red-handed at the Hong Kong border for lying about their age in order to cut a deal with their mainland tourist agency were shown leniency in a Hong Kong court on Tuesday.
Meng Xianhong, Zhu Baoyun, Xu Chengzhi and Li Xingrui were jailed for two months at Sha Tin Court after they each pleaded guilty to one charge of using a forged travel document, a bogus visa that showed a younger age, when exiting the city for Macau at the Hong Kong–Macau Ferry Terminal in Sheung Wan on June 13 this year. This visa is the Exit/Entry Permit for Travelling to and from Hong Kong and Macau.
The four burst into tears behind the dock, supported by their family members visiting from Jinan, as they learned they would be sentenced to a fraction of the 12 to 18 month deterrent sentence normally imposed for similar offences.
The short sentence means they are likely to be released on Tuesday, given that they have been remanded in custody since June.
Magistrate Colin Wong Sze-cheung said it was a serious offence to deceive the city’s Immigration Department, but the case boasted a special circumstance.
He said the four did not know forged documents would be prepared for them and that their real travel documents would be taken away after they arrived in Hong Kong.
“They were just part of the plan,” the magistrate, said noting that unlike usual cases, the four by no means used the forged documents to obtain jobs or social welfare in Hong Kong.
Stressing that the short sentence was a one-off, the magistrate added the forged documents were not intended to be used against the department, but just against shops.
“A short sentence is sufficient to remind the defendants that not only should they ignore wrongdoings while they are in Hong Kong, they should openly express their will not to participate, or even report to the authority,” he said.
The court heard that while Meng, Zhu, Xu, and Li were all above 55, their travel documents, prepared by the Jinan branch of Wanda International Travel Service, showed they were all below that age.
The agency required the group not to have more than 40 per cent of its members above age 55 in order to qualify for a discount that would see fees drop from at least 5,000 yuan (HK$5,837) to 200 yuan, it is understood. The court heard that the four were given the bogus documents for the sake of the discount.
The court heard that on June 13, Zhu was the first to be stopped by an immigration officer. The officer had suspected something was off when Zhu produced her visa, followed by the three others.
The four then sought help from their tour guide Zhang Weiwei, who produced their real visas, the court heard. Zhang also had fake copies of the defendants’ mainland identity cards. He pleaded guilty earlier to a string of offences relating to the case.
In mitigation, the four’s barrister Peter Yu Chun-cheung said his clients became aware of the situation only after they had arrived in the city. Zhang collected their real visas upon their arrival and advised them that there would conditions to the deal, which they were originally told was “a promotion for senior citizens”.
“They thought it was subsidised by the government,” the barrister said.
“The four defendants were very shocked too,” he added. They had discovered after their arrest that copies of their identity cards were also forged without their knowledge.
Yu also said the four first-timers to Hong Kong were meant to use the false documents only at shops, not at Immigration, as they had valid visas.