Why can't Mugabe buy a flat in HK, asks Beijing

PUBLISHED : Tuesday, 17 February, 2009, 12:00am
UPDATED : Tuesday, 17 February, 2009, 12:00am

The central government saw no reason why Zimbabwean President Robert Mugabe should not be allowed to buy his HK$40 million home in Tai Po since even the Falun Gong sect was allowed to buy properties in Hong Kong, the Foreign Ministry said.

The remarks by a Foreign Ministry spokesman came as pressure increased on the Hong Kong government to clarify whether it would follow international practice and ban the controversial leader, or whether it was Beijing that was calling the shots.

'Hong Kong is a free port, and even Falun Gong practitioners can buy a property there, am I right? It seems the Hong Kong government should have a say on this matter,' the ministry spokesman in Beijing said.

His comments followed a report by The Sunday Times newspaper in Britain revealing that Mr Mugabe had recently bought a luxury complex in Tai Po through a middleman. The activities of the Mugabes in the city have stirred controversy recently, after his wife Grace allegedly punched a British photographer in Tsim Sha Tsui three weeks ago.

Mr Mugabe and members of his regime and their families are barred from European Union countries and the United States. He was in the city last summer as his daughter Bona prepared to attend university here.

Democratic Party vice-chairwoman Emily Lau Wai-hing said the government should study whether to follow international practice in barring certain foreign politicians. 'There is a need for the government to clearly say whether they have such a policy, because many similar people might be looking at buying properties, investments and education in Hong Kong,' she said.

Her colleague Lee Wing-tat said that since Mr Mugabe was a head of state, his admission to Hong Kong was a foreign affairs matter, so Beijing was obviously calling the shots.

James Tang Tuck-hong, a professor of international relations at the University of Hong Kong, said the Hong Kong government had the power to bar Mr Mugabe, but the problem was complicated. 'We are talking about a foreign head of state and this definitely falls into the area of foreign affairs, which is under the central government's power,' he said. The Foreign Ministry's remarks showed Beijing was trying to stay out of the controversy, he said.

A Security Bureau spokeswoman said people from Zimbabwe were allowed visa-free entry to Hong Kong and could stay for up to 90 days.

Another spokesman said the government was committed to fighting money laundering. Critics of the Mugabes' activities here have questioned whether the money they are using comes from their state coffers.

Beijing's linking Falun Gong to Mr Mugabe angered the sect's local spokesman, Kan Hung-cheung, who said: 'How can the Chinese communists smear our good name, likening us to this big authoritarian? We are a peace-loving group who oppose authoritarianism. It is a pile of rubbish.'