In a surprise move, a Hong Kong billionaire tycoon convicted of corruption in Macau has withdrawn his legal challenge against the government’s extradition bill.

Joseph Lau, the former chair of Chinese Estates Holdings, made headlines when his lawyers announced the judicial review application on April 1. It marked the beginning of a split between the Hong Kong administration and the business community, which has since been deepened as more business leaders came out in opposition.

Joseph Lau
Joseph Lau.

However, Lau said on Wednesday that he was withdrawing the application to “reduce the disputes in our society.”

“Mr Lau is a businessman who loves his Country and Hong Kong,” his lawyers said in a statement. “Mr Lau always supports the Hong Kong government in administering the Special Administrative Region according to law.”

“The purpose of the [legal challenge] is to protect the personal rights and interests of Mr Lau; it is a proper and reasonable process and it is not aimed at the Country or the Hong Kong government.”

The proposed extradition law, which the government first introduced in February, would allow Hong Kong to transfer fugitives to jurisdictions with which the city had no prior rendition deal – most notably China, Taiwan and Macau.

Steven Lo Kit-shing Joseph Lau Luen-hung
Joseph Lau (right) and his former business partner Steven Lo Kit-shing. File

Lau was found guilty of bribery and money laundering in a land deal in Macau in 2014, and was sentenced to five years and three months in jail. During the trial, Lau remained in Hong Kong and was tried in absentia, and his sentence has not yet been served.

Previously, Lau’s lawyers asked the court to make a declaration that surrendering Lau to Macau would contravene Hong Kong’s Bill of Rights. It also asked the court to rule that any change to the extradition laws would not have a retrospective effect.

In the time since Lau filed his judicial review, Hong Kong has seen escalating opposition to the bill,  with pro-democracy lawmakers stalling the passage of the bill in the legislature. Local and international businesses have expressed concerns, along with lawyersjournalists and foreign politicians.

Lau said on Wednesday that his move was a bid to restore calm in the city.

Extradition law protest rally march

“Mr Lau is deeply saddened by the various arguments and discords appearing in our society today. Mr Lau sincerely hopes the Hong Kong society will maintain its harmony and stability, prosperity and progress,” his statement read.

“Mr Lau has now withdrawn/discontinued the [legal challenge] in the hope that this action is conducive to reducing the disputes in our society, it may also mean Mr Lau has proferred his personal contribution [on this issue].”

The Hong Kong government recently hinted at the possibility of making concessions on the details of the bill, after meeting with representatives from the Hong Kong General Chamber of Commerce.

The HKGCC said it would back the bill if more safeguards were included, such as the law only applying to serious crimes with a minimum penalty of seven years in jail, and that extradition request should only come from top authorities in the central government.

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Holmes Chan

Holmes Chan

Holmes Chan is a reporter at Hong Kong Free Press. He covers local news with a focus on law, politics, and social movements. He studied law and literature at the University of Hong Kong.