The government has decided to revise its proposed amendments to the extradition law by excluding economic offenses from its coverage.
The move came after some pro-establishment lawmakers and business groups expressed concerns about the inclusion of commercial crimes among the extraditable cases.
The Security Bureau proposed the amendments to the Fugitive Offenders Ordinance and the Mutual Legal Assistance in Criminal Matters Ordinance in February.
The original proposal was to limit future extraditions to the same 46 categories of offenses already set out in the city’s Fugitives Offenders Ordinance.
The government said on Tuesday that it decided that nine of the 46 categories, which are mainly related to commercial matters, would not be covered in the amendments, the Hong Kong Economic Journal reported.
They include crimes involving securities and futures trading, tax and duties, intellectual property rights, bankruptcy, access to a computer with dishonest intent, and false or misleading trade descriptions, among others.
Secretary for Security John Lee Ka-chiu, however, denied that the decision to revise the proposed amendments was a cave-in to pressure from certain parties.
He told a press conference that he had listened to views from different sectors during the consultation period and leaving out commercial crimes was not aimed at serving any particular sector.
The security chief also stressed that the revision is on case-based surrender arrangements while there is entirely no change to general long-term surrender arrangements.
Chief Executive Carrie Lam Cheng Yuet-ngor, who also attended the presser, said it is hard for the commercial sector or any other sector to be completely satisfied with the proposals.
The two main purposes of the revision of the Fugitive Offenders Ordinance, according to Lam, are to handle a request by Taiwanese prosecutors to extradite a Hong Kong youngster accused in a murder case that happened on the island about a year ago and to plug existing loopholes in the law to prevent Hong Kong from becoming a convenient hideout for criminals.
The chief executive also rejected allegations that the proposed amendments are intended to replace the legislation of Article 23 of the Basic Law.
She stressed that the revision is not meant to replace or pave the way for the future enactment of Article 23, which deals with national security issues.
The government plans to table a draft of the proposed amendments at the Legislative Council with first reading on April 3.
Lee said requests for extradition under the new legislation would only be entertained if the offense in question would lead to a prison term of at least three years in Hong Kong, raising the bar from the original proposal of one year.
Commenting on the government’s latest decision on the matter, Raymond Young Lap-moon, chief executive of the Chinese Manufacturers’ Association of Hong Kong, said having a trial in a Hong Kong court before a criminal is extradited can help ease public concerns.
James Tien Pei-chun, an honorary chairman of the Liberal Party, said the commercial sector is worried most about alleged crimes involving bribery and corruption, which are notremoved from the list of extraditable offenses.
If such concerns cannot be allayed, Tien said, he would urge his partymates not to support the bill.
Lawmaker and Civic Party leader Alvin Yeung Ngok-kiu criticized the government for failing to fundamentally ease public concerns about the mainland’s judicial system.
Meanwhile, both the Democratic Alliance for the Betterment and Progress of Hong Kong (DAB) and the Hong Kong Federation of Trade Unions (HKFTU), the city’s two largest pro-Beijing political parties, expressed support for the proposed amendments and called on all sectors to accept the draft so that the bill can be passed as soon as possible.
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