Hong Kong could pay compensation to a Libyan dissident whose secret rendition from the city led to his torture in one of late dictator Muammar Gaddafi s jails.
Security and justice officials have confirmed a payout to Sami al-Saadi - which the Sunday Morning Post understands will run to millions of dollars - is being considered.
Saadi claims that he, his wife and four young children were abducted by Hong Kong authorities and forced onto a Tripoli-bound plane in March 2004, after which he was imprisoned and tortured for years.
Government officials have refused to say how much Saadi is seeking, but the Post understands it to be in the region of HK$26 million, a figure which has raised concerns among lawmakers.
The development comes more than a year after Saadi's lawyers sent a letter to the Department of Justice threatening legal action.
That letter demanded answers about the government's role in the arrest, detention, interrogation and forced repatriation of Saadi and his family, and accused Hong Kong authorities of conspiring with America's Central Intelligence Agency, its British counterpart MI6, and Libyan spies.
Last December, the UK government paid Saadi - a vocal opponent of Gaddafi and considered a terrorist by many Western governments - and his family £2.2 million (HK$26 million) in compensation for the rendition, without admitting any liability.
That is the same figure being considered by Hong Kong officials, the Post understands.
The possibility of such a payout has prompted lawmakers to demand the government come clean on its role in the case.
"I'm more concerned about the flouting of the rule of law," Civic Party lawmaker and lawyer Ronny Tong Ka-wah said.
"We treasure our rule of law, so if we surreptitiously forced someone onto a flight with total disregard for the city's rule of law, it's not a matter of how much we have to pay, but of who the culprit is. What are the reasons behind this unconstitutional and unlawful act?"
Tong added: "If we have to pay something like HK$20 million-odd, the government has to come to Legco for funding, and that would be the time to demand greater detail."
Beijing-loyalist lawmaker Chan Kam-lam said any request for funding would prompt great scrutiny of the case.
"They have to give us enough reasons to provide the money," he said yesterday.
In a joint statement, the Security Bureau and the Department of Justice said Saadi's lawyers had "indicated their intention to assert a claim against the government'', adding: "At this stage, it would not be appropriate for the government to make any comments."
The case is the first in which Hong Kong has been identified as a player in the secret CIA rendition programme that followed the September 11 terror attacks, with suspects and innocent individuals secretly rounded up, jailed and tortured, many in so-called black jails.