【明報專訊】THE government's proposal to amend the Fugitive Offenders Ordinance but exempt nine offences for the transfer of fugitives has sparked controversy. The government maintains that not all the excluded offences are commercial crimes. However, if examined in detail, the new plan is obviously tailor-made for the business community and one can hardly see any sound criteria for the exemption. It is true that politics is the art of compromise, but there is a prerequisite: the basic principles or social justice must not be sacrificed. As all are equal before the law, on no grounds should white-collar offenders enjoy the privilege of being exempted from extradition. The government has so far emphasised that the amendment is aimed at plugging legal loopholes and preventing Hong Kong from becoming the fugitives' paradise. However, the latest proposal in fact goes against that original intention and may turn Hong Kong into a haven to business criminals. That will undermine the existing legal framework of Hong Kong and send an extremely negative message to society. The new proposal to the amendment is a complete travesty; it is unfair and unjust. Such kind of privilege-reinforcing arrangement is worse than no amendment at all.
At present, Hong Kong has been enforcing long-term agreements on the transfer of fugitive offenders with 19 countries. Countries and regions that have not signed extradition agreements with Hong Kong can only request the transfer of fugitives on a case-by-case basis and wait for the Hong Kong government's decision based on the Fugitive Offenders Ordinance. Currently Hong Kong has no long-term agreements with the mainland, Macao or Taiwan on the handover of fugitive offenders. Last month the Hong Kong government proposed amending the Fugitive Offenders Ordinance so that the Chief Executive can authorise the start of extradition procedures for the 46 types of offences listed in the Fugitive Offenders Ordinance. The local court will be the gatekeeper who decides whether the fugitives should be transferred or not. The government has emphasised that the amendment is both for the purpose of handling the case of a Hongkonger who allegedly committed homicide in Taiwan last year and plugging the loopholes of the existing system, thereby preventing Hong Kong from becoming a hideout for criminals. The pan-democrats are concerned whether fugitives transferred to the mainland will be given a fair trial and whether the mainland may request extraditions citing criminal prosecutions when the motives are in fact political. Given the opposition of the pan-democratic camp to the amendment, lawmakers from the business sector have become the critical minority determining whether the proposal will be passed by the Legislative Council.
Lately, the business community has continuously called upon the government to tick out white-collar crimes such as those related to environmental protection, copyright and tax from the list. A close examination of the latest proposal for amendments reveals that the government is almost "granting whatever is asked for" in the wishlist of the business sector. The nine offences excluded by the authorities cover bankruptcy, corporate behaviour, securities and futures trading, intellectual property, environmental pollution, tax evasion, import and export of goods and cross-border capital transfer, unlawful use of computers as well as false trade descriptions. The government's explanation is that some of the offences removed also apply to actions by individuals and should not be seen only as white-collar crimes. However, in the eyes of the ordinary public, the new arrangement is exactly tailor-made for business people. Moreover, the government's agreement to raise the threshold for requesting extradition, from offences punishable by one year's imprisonment as originally proposed to three years, has also been advocated by some chambers of commerce. The original 46 offences mentioned in the Fugitive Offenders Ordinance, like murder, bribery, tax evasion and commercial fraud, are all internationally recognised as felonies. The seriousness of a case depends on its concrete details and cannot be classified simply by the type of crime involved. One cannot say a white-collar crime must definitely be less serious than a violent crime. The government's cited rationale of "dealing with more serious crimes first" in ticking out the nine offences is questionable.
plug sth : to provide sth that has been missing from a particular situation and is needed in order to improve it
haven : a place of shelter, protection, safety, or retreat
travesty : sth that does not have the qualities or values that it should have, and as a result is often shocking or offensive