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Meng Wanzhou

Hong Kong ‘not obliged to enforce sanctions imposed by US alone’, says senior official on case of Huawei’s Sabrina Meng Wanzhou

  • Commerce bureau says government will only act on sanctions ordered by UN Security Council
  • Meng is on bail in Canada, accused of breaking Iran sanctions through Hong Kong shell company
PUBLISHED : Wednesday, 12 December, 2018, 10:44pm
UPDATED : Sunday, 16 December, 2018, 1:02pm

Hong Kong is not obliged to enforce sanctions imposed by the United States, including in the case of Huawei executive Sabrina Meng Wanzhou’s alleged dealings with Iran through a local company, a senior official told legislators on Wednesday.

Vivian Sum Fong-kwang, deputy secretary of the Commerce and Economic Development Bureau, said the city government would only act on sanctions ordered by the UN Security Council, and would not enforce unilateral sanctions by individual jurisdictions, including the US or the European Union.

She was responding to lawmakers’ questions on whether Hong Kong needed to act on Meng’s alleged breach of the sanctions. The Huawei chief financial officer is accused of using a Hong Kong shell company to trade with Iran.

“Certain countries may out of their own consideration issue sanctions orders in addition to orders from the UN,” Sum told a Legislative Council panel scrutinising the incorporation of UN sanctions orders against Sudan, Yemen and Central African Republic into local laws.

“The Hong Kong government has no obligation or legal authority to enforce these individual sanctions orders.”

Meng was arrested on December 1 in Vancouver at the behest of the US, which accused her of violating the American sanctions by misrepresenting Huawei’s sales to an Iranian telecoms firm via a shell company in Hong Kong. The sale reportedly involved computers.

She was granted bail by a Canadian court on Tuesday amid ongoing extradition proceedings.

The American sanctions ban any end-user export to a North Korean or Iranian company or individual.

Sum dodged the question of whether the accusations against Meng and Huawei could fall under the UN order, and therefore be caught by Hong Kong law.

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UN Security Council sanctions currently cover 14 countries including North Korea, Iran and Iraq. These orders are binding on both Hong Kong and the US.

Hong Kong’s United Nations Sanctions (Iran) Regulation prohibits any export of, or agreement to sell, certain military or nuclear goods, or high-end technology to the Tehran government or any Iranian national. Any violation can lead to a maximum seven-year jail term.

Without commenting on specific cases, Sum said Hong Kong law enforcement agencies always followed up on reports of suspected sanctions violations.

“But if the alleged entity is not violating any Hong Kong law, that would be a low priority for us,” she said.

Asked about the lack of any prosecution in Hong Kong under the UN sanctions so far, Sum said it did not mean there were no investigations. She did not elaborate.

Lawmaker Kenneth Leung Kai-cheong, who chaired the committee tasked with revisions of the local UN sanctions laws, said unless it was proved the computers or technology transferred to Iran involved military or nuclear technology, there may not be a clear case against Meng in Hong Kong.

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“Based on existing UN Security Council guidelines against Meng, there’s insufficient grounds to simply argue, for instance, the equipment can be used for wiretapping. It may have to be shown to have a military purpose,” Leung said.

Patrick Sinclair, a former US federal prosecutor, agreed that Hong Kong regulators may have to bring specific details to prove Meng violated UN sanctions.

He said the Iran-related US allegations against Meng “do not necessarily come under the UN Security Council’s regime”.