An official stamp sample used for the renunciation of British citizenship matches with the one on documents provided by Legislative Council President Andrew Leung last year, FactWire has found.
The industrial sector lawmaker sparked controversy whilst running as a presidential candidate in LegCo amid doubts from the public over his renunciation application. Aside from the authenticity of the documents, the swift completion of procedures prompted questions over whether there was interference by the Chinese government to expedite the process.
It took nine months for FactWire to acquire a full reply from the UK’s Home Office after numerous “freedom of information” requests. The information sought included a sample of the authorization stamp and application time statistics.
Aside from the provision of a stamp sample, the Home Office replied that Leung’s application was approved in eight days. In the same year, five applications were approved within seven days and 175 applications were completed between eight to 30 days.
Leung showed his “Declaration of Renunciation” to reporters on the day of the election for the LegCo President on October 12 last year. It stated that Leung applied for the renunciation on September 22, and his application bore a stamp of registration from the Home Office dated September 30.
FactWire repeatedly made enquiries to the Home Office from October 15 onwards as to whether the stamp on Leung’s declaration was authentic; the average time taken to renounce one’s British citizenship; the reasons why Leung completed it within a week and whether there was interference by the Chinese government. The press office replied that they “do not routinely comment on individual cases.”
FactWire then quoted the Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) to request the Home Office to provide details of the official template, including the stamp sample and proper position of the officer’s signature on a declaration, as well as the processing time and statistics for renunciation applications.
The information requested was “exempt from disclosure” since the Home Office is obliged to “protect personal data,” according to a reply in early November from the UK Visas and Immigration (UKVI), a department under the Home Office in charge of handling renunciation applications.
However, the UKVI said that where a declaration “is stamped and signed by a Home Office Official, the endorsement can be made in any available space and there is no specified format.”
On top of that, it said, renunciation applications “should be given priority consideration at all stages” and that “when renunciation is required by a specified date, the case will normally be processed in advance of that date. If the application is made in the correct manner and all relevant documents/evidence provided, a case can be processed within 48 hours of receipt.”
The LegCo Secretariat stated that they did not contact or provide any documents to any overseas government organizations on behalf of Leung regarding his participation in the LegCo presidential election, according to a response from the department to FactWire’s enquiry.
Another response from the UK authorities was then received in mid-December, confirming that they could not provide an answer owing to legal requirements stated in the previous reply. Upon extending the processing time, the UKVI issued a complete response in mid-June this year, with a stamp sample and application statistics.
The format and font of the stamp on Leung’s application matches that of the official stamp. Based on the official definition, it took eight days for Leung to complete his application.
Statistics from the UKVI show that – among 485 applications for renouncing one’s British nationality in 2016 – only five cases were completed within seven days. 175 cases were completed between eight to 30 days, which takes up around 35 per cent of the total number of cases. 40 per cent took 31 to 60 days until completion, and the remaining 20 per cent took over 60 days.
In 2015, only one or two cases were completed within two days. No cases were completed between three to seven days, while 50 cases were completed between eight to 30 days, taking up around eight per cent of the total number of cases.
Article 71 of the Basic Law states that “the President of the Legislative Council of the Hong Kong Special Administrative Region shall be a Chinese citizen of not less than 40 years of age, who is a permanent resident of the Region with no right of abode in any foreign country and has ordinarily resided in Hong Kong for a continuous period of not less than 20 years.”
However, Leung’s eligibility to run for the president of LegCo was under question.
Upon securing support from the pro-establishment lawmakers, Leung admitted on October 3 last year that he renounced his British citizenship after the LegCo election in early September. However, Leung was unable to provide official documents to prove his completion of the renunciation procedure before the end of the nomination period on October 5.
On the day of the election – October 12 – Leung claimed he received documents from the Home Office and showed his “Declaration of Renunciation” to the media, which stated that Leung submitted his application on September 22 and received a confirmation stamp on September 30.
Eyebrows were raised over the authenticity of the declaration. The position of the stamp was different from that of other applications, and the official’s signature did not overlap with the stamp.
FactWire visited London and the UKVI in Liverpool for its investigation in mid-October last year. A staff member who wished to remain anonymous told FactWire that it normally takes two months to process renunciation applications. Our reporters then contacted a staffer responsible for sending the Home Office documents to Leung, though they refused to respond to any questions.