Offer to lawyers raises fear of Beijing reaction
HONG KONG'S oldest trading house has been accused of encouraging expatriate barristers to leave the territory in the run-up to 1997 by offering a repatriation service package.
Legislators are concerned the move by Jardine Matheson PFC - whose parent company caused a furore by moving its base to Bermuda - could further destabilise the legal profession during the sensitive transition period.
Jardine Matheson has circulated letters to all legal chambers in Hong Kong, advertising its Relocation Investment and Taxation Service (RITS).
But a local politician has said the service will arouse anger in Beijing, as further evidence that the hong is not putting the interests of the territory foremost.
Chairman of the Democratic Alliance for the Betterment of Hong Kong Tsang Yok-sing asked why the service was being offered to a profession which needed to be stable through the handover.
Mr Tsang said: 'I am a bit surprised. It is all right for Jardine to move out [of Hong Kong] if they feel it is a prudent commercial move.
'Doing it themselves is one thing - but offering these services to a profession which needs to be stabilised in the run-up to 1997 is a different matter.
'People in Beijing may well see this as further evidence that Jardine is not putting the interests of Hong Kong first.' When RITS was launched in January, Matheson director Ivor Dalgleish said it was 'an important step in enabling us to provide an even more streamlined and user-friendly service for those relocating to the UK.
'It means we are able to provide clients with a centralised, one-stop advisory service encompassing the legal, tax and financial planning aspects of relocation.' Mr Dalgleish said he hoped to extend the service to people moving to Australia, New Zealand and Canada.
Legislator Emily Lau Wai-hing said the main cause for concern was the number of expatriate lawyers intending to leave the territory before the handover.
'If senior expatriate lawyers are patronising Jardine's with a view to leaving, what is going to happen to our legal system?,' Ms Lau asked.
But the independent legislator warned against looking at the circular in a conspiratorial light.
Jardine Matheson PFC's Retirement Planning Department manager Tim Nicholls said the firm had handled the issue with sensitivity.
'Our marketing intelligence told us there would be no mass exodus of expatriate barristers before 1997,' he said.
'Sending the letters to chambers was purely a marketing exercise and, to be quite honest, we have only received a handful of replies from this sector.
'There are those who are approaching retirement age, or are just fed up with Hong Kong - the people who are likely to take up this repatriation service.'