Although the pan-dems successfully stalled the election of chairman and vice-chairman at the first meeting of the Bills Committee on Fugitive Offenders and Mutual Legal Assistance in Criminal Matters Legislation (Amendment) Bill 2019 last week, they conceded that their victory can at best bring Hong Kong citizens only brief joy.
It is because, they explained, as the next meeting is already scheduled for April 30, and with the pro-establishment camp holding the majority of seats in the bills committee, it is quite likely that the new extradition legislation can complete its third reading before Legco takes its summer recess in July.
Meanwhile, there has been talk among both the pan-dems and the pro-establishment camp that the proposed changes in the extradition law have not only raised concerns within the city, as well as some western powers such as Britain and the United States, they are also causing worry among Chinese civilian-run enterprises that are based in Hong Kong.
Under the government’s proposed amendments, Hong Kong can hand over fugitives or offer legal assistance, under a one-off case-based approach, to jurisdictions which haven’t concluded extradition agreements with Hong Kong, including mainland China and Taiwan.
The pan-dems and the pro-establishment camp have their sources as saying that some mainland private enterprise owners have expressed concern about the proposed amendments to the mainland authorities, through special channels.
It is understood that what the mainland tycoons fear most is that they themselves could also face the prospect of getting extradited to the mainland and standing trial one day once the new law is passed, as many of them had bribed their way to the top in order to earn their “first bucket of gold” during the early days of their business careers.
The Hong Kong government, on its part, is said to have dismissed such concerns, pointing out that whenever mainland authorities seek the extradition of any specific individual, Hong Kong will require the mainland authorities to guarantee that the criminal charges brought against that person are within the statute of limitations under Chinese law.
Otherwise, the government noted, the person is entitled to the right of filing an appeal against the extradition request in a Hong Kong court.
Yet as James Tien Pei-chun, former lawmaker and the incumbent honorary chairman of the Liberal Party, has told us, quite a number of mainland civilian entrepreneurs whose companies have gone public in Hong Kong in recent years have spoken with him about their grave concerns.
Tien said that although there are statutes of limitations for criminal offences in China, these mainland tycoons, who are now settled in Hong Kong, and whose business operations are highly diversified and involve huge amount of capital, are worried that the jail terms they may get aren’t going to be short if the mainland law enforcement does come after them for the bribery they committed in the past.
As such, Tien said, his partymate and the sitting Liberal Party leader Felix Chung Kwok-pan is set to propose an amendment to the government’s bill in the upcoming meetings.
Under the amendments proposed by the Liberals, extradition requests made by mainland authorities should only be granted if the criminal offense in question would lead to a jail sentence of at least seven years in Hong Kong rather than just three years as originally proposed by the government.
Tien estimated that the proposal would make business sector feel “a lot more relieved”.
Nevertheless, many in the political circles believe that at the end of the day, it would be up to the Beijing leaders, rather than the Hong Kong administration, to decide whether to make further concessions over the issue.
This article appeared in the Hong Kong Economic Journal on April 18
Translation by Alan Lee with additional reporting
[Chinese version 中文版]
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