The gruesome Taiwan murder that lies behind Hong Kong leader Carrie Lam’s extradition push
- Suspect in death of pregnant Hongkonger killed on holiday cannot stand trial because there is no agreement between two places
- Backlash from business community means plan has been watered down, but doubts remain at home and abroad
The government set off a storm on February 12 when it proposed legislative amendments to allow the surrender of fugitives to jurisdictions in which the city had no extradition deal, including Macau, Taiwan and the mainland.
The policy change is aimed at plugging loopholes exposed by a homicide case in February last year, in which Taiwanese authorities were unable to prosecute a Hongkonger accused of killing his pregnant girlfriend in Taipei before fleeing to Hong Kong.
As it stands, suspects can be surrendered to one of the 20 countries with which Hong Kong has an extradition deal. The 46 offences they can be handed over for include murder, hacking, smuggling and tax evasion, as well as 15 corporate crimes such as fraud, corruption and money laundering.
On the day when the Security Bureau’s proposal was revealed, opposition lawmakers such as James To Kun-sun of the Democratic Party were quick to warn that Beijing would be empowered to ask for political dissidents in Hong Kong to be handed back to the mainland.
But pro-Beijing lawmakers such as Starry Lee Wai-king, who heads the pro-establishment Democratic Alliance for the Betterment and Progress of Hong Kong, and Regina Ip Lau Suk-yee of the New People’s Party dismissed such fears.
However, sentiment soon started to change to the disadvantage of the government. On February 22, Priscilla Leung Mei-fun, a vice-chairwoman of the Business and Professionals Alliance (BPA), was among the first pro-Beijing figures to propose exempting people suspected of white-collar crimes from the fugitive plan.
“The thresholds for some offences are so different between [Hong Kong and the mainland] … We should be open to discussing if we could exempt some laws from the list,” Leung said, adding that people from the business sector had also raised concerns.
On March 6, the American Chamber of Commerce, Hong Kong’s most influential American business network, dropped a bombshell by denouncing the proposed extradition agreement, warning the government it would damage the city’s reputation as a “secure haven for international business”.
The culmination came a day later, when several Hong Kong business and pro-Beijing heavyweights, who were in Beijing for the annual session of the National People’s Congress, and the Chinese People’s Political Consultative Conference (CPPCC), joined the chorus of criticism.
They included former No 2 Hong Kong official Henry Tang Ying-yen, Peter Lam Kin-ngok, the incoming chairman of the Trade Development Council, and Executive Council member Jeffrey Lam Kin-fung. Both Peter and Jeffrey Lam are members of the BPA and the CPPCC.
“I have every confidence that, while the community is supportive of plugging the loopholes of Hong Kong being a shelter for fugitives … only crimes serious and heinous enough should be extraditable,” Tang said.
Sources said at the time that the business heavyweights’ rare open criticism was emboldened by the knowledge the extradition move had not been foisted on Lam by Beijing, but was an idea of her own government. It was also fuelled by anger over the Hong Kong government’s decision to build houses on a historic golf course in Fanling, whose 2,600 club members include many of the city’s political and business elite.
Secretary for Security John Lee Ka-chiu had initially opposed watering down the extradition proposal.
Yet, on March 11, two local business groups backed a new two-stage extradition deal floated by former Hong Kong police chief Andy Tsang Wai-hung in an exclusive interview with the Post.
Tsang’s proposal would allow transfers for uncontroversial and heinous offences first, while 15 white-collar crimes such as ones relating to taxes, fraud and money laundering would be considered in the Legislative Council only after a thorough discussion in the city.
A week later, Chief Executive Carrie Lam Cheng Yuet-ngor hinted on March 19 that the government might soften its stance on the fugitives plan.
“After consulting and listening to many opinions, I would leave it to the security chief … to work on whether there might be any modifications to the bill,” she said.
Under the latest plan announced on Tuesday, nine economic crimes, including tax evasion and violation of intellectual property rights, will be excluded from the controversial proposal.
While some businessmen and the pro-democracy camp were not satisfied with the latest amendments, several business leaders had expressed support.
“The government has alleviated most of the worries of the business sector and the residents, but more clarity is still needed for some of the 37 types of offences that remained on the list,” Jeffrey Lam said.
He noted that offences against the law relating to bribery, corruption, secret commissions and breach of trust remained extraditable under the amended proposal.
“The government needs to explain more on offences involving breach of trust.”