Chief Executive Carrie Lam has denied surrendering any fugitives to mainland China after a US State Department report said she did so “at the behest” of the central government last October.

The US report said Hong Kong released the detainee in question into Beijing’s custody on the basis that the central government was pursuing a separate criminal action. It said it was the first time the city has refused a US extradition request since the Handover in 1997.

But a statement issued by Lam’s office on Thursday night said it “deeply regrets” the claim. It said there is currently no surrender of fugitive offenders arrangement between Hong Kong and the mainland.

Carrie Lam. Photo: GovHK.

“Therefore, no surrender of a fugitive has ever been made to the Mainland,” the statement said. “The HKSAR Government deals with any movement of persons in and out of Hong Kong in accordance with the laws of Hong Kong.”

Lam’s office declined to discuss individual cases in public, but said all requests for the surrender of fugitive offenders are processed strictly in accordance with Hong Kong laws and the agreement with the US government.

Lam’s office said when a request is received, a decision on whether to issue authority to proceed – on the advice of the Department of Justice – rests solely and entirely with the chief executive.

The statement from Lam’s office attached a list of seven exemptions under which Hong Kong can refuse an extradition request, but it did not state which was relevant to the case mentioned by the US report.

The fugitive in question was reportedly a hacker named Iat Hong, a Macau resident who was arrested in Hong Kong on December 25, 2016.

Hong, along with two others, allegedly hacked into two prominent New York-based law firms, gaining more than US$4 million (HK$31.4 million) in illegal profits.

Unnamed sources cited by i-Cable news confirmed that Hong’s case was the one mentioned in the US report. The sources said Hong does not have Hong Kong residency, and there were no orders from Beijing to hand him over.

The sources added that he was released in Hong Kong – instead of being sent to the mainland – and that Hong’s current whereabouts are unknown.

‘Legitimate explanations must be given’

Democratic Party lawmaker James To, who is the deputy chair of the legislature’s panel on security, said the statement from Lam’s office was technical but did not give an explanation as to why the extradition request was refused.

James To. Photo: In-Media.

To said if the requested surrender was related to “defence, foreign affairs or essential public interest or policy,” the central government can issue an instruction to refuse the surrender via the Foreign Ministry to the Hong Kong government, according to the agreement between Hong Kong and the US.

“If Carrie Lam replied that the request was refused because it was related to defence and foreign affairs – citing the instruction – foreign countries would accept that and would not ask about details,” To said.

He added that it would be a legitimate reason to refuse the US request if the fugitive committed more serious crimes in the mainland and China is conducting an investigation or a trial.

“If the Hong Kong government does not explain – under authorisation [from Beijing] – to an important international partner like the US, it will harm Hong Kong’s credibility in the international criminal system, or even harm confidence in the implementation of ‘One Country, Two Systems’ in Hong Kong,” To said.

Kris Cheng

Kris Cheng is a Hong Kong journalist with an interest in local politics. His work has been featured in Washington Post, Public Radio International, Hong Kong Economic Times and others. He has a BSSc in Sociology from the Chinese University of Hong Kong. Kris is HKFP's Editorial Director.