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Thursday, September 03, 2020, 14:00
Arrest of fleeing fugitives for Taiwan a turning point
By Tony Kwok
Thursday, September 03, 2020, 14:00 By Tony Kwok

The promulgation of the National Security Law has clearly demonstrated its intended deterrent effect. The first breakthrough in its implementation was the arrest of the local subversive group leader Jimmy Lai Chee-ying and others on Aug 10.

We had the second unexpected major breakthrough on Aug 23, when the Guangdong coast guard intercepted a speedboat and detained 12 Hong Kong fugitives trying to flee to Taiwan. They included the separatism activist Andy Li Yu-hin, who was earlier nabbed along with Lai for allegedly colluding with foreign powers and endangering national security and money laundering. Other fugitives were those involved in the most violent riot-related crimes such as arson, possession of explosives and bomb plots, possession of weapons including pistols, and membership in the so-called Dragon Slayers team of radical protesters.

The first question that springs into my mind is why these radical criminal offenders were given court bail in the first place, which enabled them to attempt to abscond. A quick check on these cases revealed that they were allowed bail by three magistrates, namely Ho Chun-yiu, Bina Chainrai and Lam Chi-kan, and High Court Judge Wong Shun-hau.

A web check on the riot-related cases handled by these three magistrates comes up with one common feature. They mostly awarded non-custodial and lenient sentences on those who pleaded guilty and acquitted those who pleaded not guilty. From their unusual track record, there is clearly a prima facie case that these judgments are tarnished by their political bias in favor of the rioters.

The court should forfeit the bail and sureties of these fugitives and issue formal arrest warrants. For those who had earlier succeeded in absconding to Taiwan, police should go through the established liaison channels to seek their return. It should be pointed out that these fugitives are illegal immigrants in Taiwan and the return of illegal immigrants does not require the backing of an extradition agreement

The most abhorrent case is that of Wong Wai-yin, one of the fugitives. He was earlier charged with possession of TNT and the manufacture of explosives in a village house in the New Territories. The magistrate had quite rightly refused him bail but when his counsel applied for review, the High Court Judge Wong Shun-hau set him free on bail! The Chief Justice should order an internal enquiry into all these cases to ascertain whether these judges are politically biased, or worse still, have questionable relationships with the defense counsels which they did not declare.

I am particularly upset over this aberrant chain of events because as a law enforcement officer for over 36 years, I am painfully aware how difficult it is for the police to collect sufficient evidence to mount an effective prosecution against these highly organized violent rioters and yet with just a word from the magistrate, these criminals are set free, thereby wasting a huge amount of police resources in the investigation.

The Chief Justice should no longer turn a blind eye to these travesties of justice and consider my earlier suggestion (“Judicial independence should not equate to judicial dictatorship”, China Daily Hong Kong Edition, Aug 26) to set up a special in-house committee to select a pool of apolitical and suitably experienced magistrates and judges to handle future riot related cases, and to tighten the yardsticks in determining court bail, so as to obviate any future escape attempts and tragedies at sea.

This also reminds me of the time when the Independent Commission Against Corruption was about to be set up in 1974, there was an exodus of corrupt officials fleeing to Taiwan, taking advantage of the absence of an extradition agreement with Hong Kong. So it is not the first time that Taiwan has allowed itself to be abused as a safe haven for criminal offenders on the run. Shame on Taiwan!

This group escape bid is clearly a well-financed and organized operation. According to intelligence, the “snakehead” charged HK$500,000 ($64,514) per head for smuggling them to Taiwan. Surely this is not a sum most of these 12 fugitives, mainly students, can afford. The trip is therefore almost certainly organized by the mastermind to “keep their mouths shut”!  

But contrary to their scheme, these fugitives would unlikely keep their mouths shut under interrogation by Chinese mainland law enforcement agents. With the continental legal system similar to most European countries, they cannot resort to their “right of silence” on the mainland. The suspects are obliged to answer all questions, but the whole interview process is fair because the mainland has long adopted a video recording system for all interviews of suspects.

The interviews would likely result in obtaining valuable evidence and intelligence in the following areas: Who organized and financed their escape bid; triad involvement; who are their accomplices, handlers, financiers and their command structure in last year’s violent social unrest; the role of the US Consulate General staff and CIA in fomenting the unrest; Taiwan’s support for the rioters and the escape bid, bearing in mind that two groups of rioters and activists had earlier successfully fled to Kaohsiung using a similar route.

These fugitives should come to learn that according to Chinese national law, all criminal offenses committed by Chinese citizens outside mainland jurisdiction are triable on the mainland. One classic case is notorious Hong Kong gangster Cheung Tze-keung, who executed the kidnappings of several Hong Kong billionaires. He was tried and sentenced to death on the mainland. Likewise, the failed escapees could be tried for their Hong Kong criminal offenses, or at the very least, they would be prosecuted for illegal crossing of border and can face a maximum of one year in prison. Ironically, they opposed the rendition agreement which allows for the exchange of fugitives. They would now have to serve their prison terms on the mainland before being handed over to Hong Kong to be further prosecuted for offenses they might have committed in Hong Kong. 

To avoid long imprisonment on the mainland, they should be cooperative and thorough in their interviews and hopefully take advantage of Article 33 of the National Security Law, in that if they give a truthful account of their offenses and report on the offenses committed by others, or provide information which assists in solving other criminal cases, they would be given a reduction in sentence, or even turned prosecution witnesses in exchange for immunity.

The intelligence and evidence extracted from these interviews will undoubtedly be useful in mounting another major operation in the near future to uproot all elements of the entire subversive syndicate and break their backbone, allowing for peace and stability to return to Hong Kong.

Henceforth, the court should forfeit the bail and sureties of these fugitives and issue formal arrest warrants. For those who had earlier succeeded in absconding to Taiwan, police should go through the established liaison channels to seek their return. It should be pointed out that these fugitives are illegal immigrants in Taiwan and the return of illegal immigrants does not require the backing of an extradition agreement.

The tragedy of all this is that most of these fugitives are just young students, including one from the University of Hong Kong and one from the Open University of Hong Kong. There is even one Form Two pupil. Those who instigated these young people to commit violent crime under dubious pretexts should really be ashamed of themselves for having ruined their future by exploiting their misguided youthful idealism. Their enablers and instigators include their teachers in schools and universities, notably the now dismissed HKU associate law professor Benny Tai Yiu-ting for urging them to “breach the law to achieve justice”.

Then we have these deceitful lawyers like Alan Leong advocating: “Violence may sometimes be the solution to the problem”, and Yeung Ngok-kiu, who once exhorted young rioters that “going to jail will make your life more brilliant”. The most shameful aspect of their machinations is that these instigators would never allow their own children to go near to any public protest but instead kept inciting other youngsters to do the dirty work for them to advance their political agenda! Shame on them!

The author is an adjunct professor of HKU Space and a council member of the Chinese Association of Hong Kong and Macao Studies. He is the former head of operations of ICAC.

The views do not necessarily reflect those of China Daily. 

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