POLITICS

Travellers to Hong Kong won't have to declare large amounts of cash

Plan to require doing so for amounts upwards of HK$120,000 rejected by lawmakers who say it is unfriendly to cash-toting mainland tourists

PUBLISHED : Wednesday, 08 July, 2015, 3:23am
UPDATED : Wednesday, 26 October, 2016, 2:38pm

In a surprise move, legislators yesterday rejected a government proposal to require arriving travellers to make a declaration if the money they carry in exceeds HK$120,000.

The plan had been intended to bring Hong Kong up to international standards in terms of combating money laundering.

But at yesterday's meeting of the Legislative Council's security panel, pan-democrats joined their pro-establishment rivals to criticise the move as hostile to tourists and press the government to lift the HK$120,000 level or do away with the plan.

The proposal stemmed from a recommendation of the Financial Action Task Force, an intergovernmental body that sets legal and regulatory standards to combat money laundering and related crimes. It recommended a threshold of US$15,000 (HK$116,000) for declaration.

Hong Kong is the only member of the task force that has not set up a declaration system for physical cross-boundary transportation of large quantities of money.

Undersecretary for security John Lee Ka-chiu said the proposal would not have substantially impacted commercial travellers.

"The [measure] is not currency control, and will not affect the legitimate flow of funds across boundaries," he said, citing Hong Kong's sophisticated banking system.

But independent lawmaker Wong Yuk-man said Hong Kong's situation was different because most of its visitors were from the mainland, where they were used to using cash to shop. "The measure would only trouble them," he said.

Democrat James To Kun-sun also questioned the effectiveness of the measure: "I wonder if anyone would launder money by carrying a huge amount of cash from one place to another."

Christopher Chung Shu-kun, of the Democratic Alliance for the Betterment and Progress of Hong Kong, urged the government to consider lifting the threshold to HK$200,000 or higher. "HK$120,000 is not even enough to buy a watch," he said.

Also at yesterday's meeting, legislators were briefed on a government plan to simplify procedures so as to cut short from 25 weeks to 15 weeks the time needed to process claims by illegal immigrants who say they are refugees and should not be sent back to dangerous or uninhabitable places - a principle known as non-refoulement.

Official data showed there was a backlog of 9,884 pending non-refoulement claims by the end of May this year.

Public concern has grown as the cost to taxpayers for handling such claims has risen, from HK$431 million in 2013-2014 to an estimated HK$644 million in 2015-2016. Some 43 per cent of claimants had been smuggled into the city and another 50 per cent overstayed their visas.