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Editorial : Unfair amendment to the fugitive law

【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.

明報社評2019.03.27:强化特權毁棄公義 逃犯修例不要也罷

《逃犯條例》修訂爭議,政府建議抽起9項罪行,不在移交考慮之列。政府表示剔除的並非全屬商業罪行,然而細察具體內容,新方案明顯是為商界度身訂做,看不到剔除準則何在。政治是妥協的藝術,惟前提是不能犧牲基本原則和社會公義。法律面前人人平等,商業犯罪不應享有豁免移交的特權,政府一直強調修例是要堵塞法律漏洞,避免香港成為逃犯天堂,可是新建議卻違背初衷,容許香港成為一些商業罪犯的避風港,削弱本港現有法律框架,向社會釋出極壞信息。修例新提案不倫不類不公不義,這種強化特權的安排,實在不要也罷。

香港現與19個國家執行逃犯移交長期協議,未有簽訂協議的國家及地區,只能以個案形式提出移交要求,由港府根據《逃犯條例》決定。目前本港與內地、澳門和台灣並無長期移交協議,上月港府建議修訂《逃犯條例》,行政長官可根據條例所列出的46種罪行,提出啟動移交程序,交人與否由本港法庭把關。政府強調,修例既是為了處理去年台灣發生的港人謀殺案,亦是為了填補現有制度缺陷,避免香港成為罪犯藏身之所;泛民關注逃犯移交內地能否獲得公平審訊,擔心內地假借刑事指控掩飾政治原因,要求港方交人。泛民反對修例,方案能否通過,立法會商界議員遂成為關鍵少數。

近期商界不斷要求政府將環保、版權、稅務等多項商業經濟罪行剔除。觀乎最新修訂草案內容,政府對於商界多項建議,幾乎是「有求必應」。當局剔除的9項罪行,涵蓋範圍包括破產清盤、企業行為、證券交易、知識產權、環境污染、逃避課稅、貨物進出口及跨境資金轉移、非法使用電腦,以及虛假商品說明。政府解釋當中部分罪行涉及個人行為,不單是商業罪行,然而在普羅大眾眼中,新安排就是為商界度身訂做;政府同意將申請移交逃犯的門檻,由最初建議可囚至少1年的罪行,提高至可囚3年或以上,實際亦是一些商會的主張。《逃犯條例》提及的46項罪行,諸如謀殺、貪污、逃稅、商業欺詐等,均是國際公認的嚴重罪行,案件輕重要視乎具體情節,不能簡單以罪行類別區分,不能說商業罪行嚴重程度一定比暴力罪行為輕,政府以「先處理較為嚴重的罪行類別」為由,剔除9項罪行,理據值得商榷。

■Glossary

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

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