Asia Television (ATV) could face criminal charges for allowing several mainland contestants who overstayed their visitors' permits to compete in its Mr Asia competition on Sunday, a barrister said.
One contestant whose visa expired before the contest reportedly said ATV had arranged his entry document and should have known it had expired.
ATV senior vice-president Yip Ka-bo confirmed last night in Shenzhen, where the station was celebrating its 55th anniversary, that the station had assisted six contestants from the mainland in their applications for three-month business visas that allowed for multiple entries in a given period, but they had forgotten the requirement that the visa holders should leave the city after seven days.
He said he was assisting the Immigration Department's investigation.
Barrister Albert Luk Wai-hung said ATV could be prosecuted if it aided or abetted the contestants' unlawful stays in Hong Kong.
"If there is evidence that ATV staff knew that the contestants were overstaying, or even arranged accommodation for them during their visit, it is likely that ATV could face criminal charges," Luk said.
"It is a crime and the authorities should be taking it seriously."
An Immigration Department spokesman said the matter was under investigation and no charges had yet been laid.
A source familiar with the matter said the department was seeking legal advice.
Luk said that if the contestants had entered Hong Kong on tourist visas, then joining the contest may have breached their conditions of stay.
"Anyone who seeks income or employment is breaching the conditions of stay under a tourist permit," he said.
"It's possible that these people joined the competition as a way to win money or contracts as performers."
The source admitted that the breach was possible, but it may require a closer look at the terms of agreement between contestants and ATV.
"It is very complicated to define whether the cases have breached the conditions of their entry permits.
"It really depends on the nature of competition they joined and their agreements with the organiser.
"The main focus of the investigation is to see if ATV employed any person who by law is unemployable," the source added.
The source said that television stations usually assisted beauty pageant contestants to apply for business or employment permits once a contract was signed between them to avoid breaking the law, but this time "there may have been an administrative mistake".