Business groups win concessions on extradition law

Concern has increased within the business community in Hong Kong since the government proposed amendments to extradition legislation to allow the SAR to transfer suspects to the mainland, particularly about what would constitute a crime that allows for extradition. In a response, the government agreed to remove some commercial crimes.

On Tuesday, the government said it will exclude nine types of commercial crime from the amendments to the city’s extradition law under strong opposition from the business sector.

The crimes to be scrapped relate to:

  • the unlawful use of computers;
  • environmental pollution or protection of public health;
  • intellectual property, copyright, patents or trademarks;
  • exportation or importation of goods control,
  • the international transfer of funds;
  • bankruptcy, companies, securities and futures trading;
  • fiscal matters, taxes or duties; or
  • false or misleading trade descriptions.

The current Fugitive Offences Ordinance covers 46 categories of crimes, with some concerning economic activity. The new plan means now only 37 types of crimes are covered.

Before the announcement was made, Mr James Tien, honorary chair of the business-friendly Liberal Party, said the government should only focus on life-threatening crimes to reassure the business sector.

Easing concerns

In response to the government’s move, the Hong Kong General Chamber of Commerce (HKGCC) said: “The Chamber feels removal of nine of the most contentious crimes out of the proposed 46 offences…will go a long way towards easing people’s concerns.”

Earlier, the HKGCC weighed in on the issue, warning that extradition “has to be approached with extreme caution and care, and should not be rushed.”

Its Chairman, Mr Aron Harilela, said there are concerns that “offences that may qualify for potential extradition and the safeguards available to protect the individual accused of the crime.”

The proposal to amend the extradition law stemmed from the murder in Taiwan last year of a pregnant 20-year-old woman. Mr Chan Tong-kai strangled his girlfriend in Taiwan and fled to Hong Kong, where he was arrested on charges of money laundering, because he had taken his girlfriend ATM card and tried to use it in Hong Kong. Despite his arrest there was no mechanism for him to be extradited to Taiwan to face murder charges.

Later, the Security Bureau proposed amending the Fugitive Offenders Ordinance and the Mutual Legal Assistance in Criminal Matters Ordinance to enable a case-by-case approach to fugitive transfer requests.

The proposed changes led to concerns that went beyond the relatively obvious need to facilitate the prosecution of murder suspects.

Accidental crimes

The Chinese Manufacturers’ Association of Hong Kong also expressed its concern earlier. It said the economic crimes category covered by the Fugitive Offenders Ordinance “is very broad and remains arguable” and that Hong Kong businessmen could breach the law inadvertently.

“If the amendment is done without any extensive consultation or consensus, it would hurt the confidence in doing business there,” the CMA said in a statement.

Simply put, the local business sector is worried that businesspeople in the city could be handed over to the mainland for ill-defined economic crimes.

“In the U.K., for example, an extradition request must be refused if, by reason of the trivial nature of the offence or certain other reasons it would be ‘unjust or oppressive’ to extradite the alleged offender,” said HKGCC’s CEO Ms Shirley Yuen.

The concern stems, in no small measures, from the vastly different legal systems between Hong Kong and China as well as the potential for the death penalty in the mainland.

No one trusts Chinese courts

The American Chamber of Commerce in Hong Kong said early this month that it has “grave concerns about mainland legal and judicial system.”

“Mainland criminal process has deep flaws, including lack of an independent judiciary, arbitrary detention, lack of fair public trial, lack of access to legal representation and poor prison conditions,” it said in a statement.

The reaction across various business groups to the proposed amendment to the extradition law shows a lack of trust in mainland’s legal system. And as the CMA warns, this could trigger withdrawal from investing in China.

But legal professionals say ruling out the economic crimes suggested by the business groups is not a fair move.

Mr Billy Li On-yin, convenor of the Progressive Lawyers Group, said the business sector has no grounds to decide what crimes could be subject to extradition and what crimes couldn’t.