A former district councillor charged under the Beijing-imposed national security law has been allowed to submit his election expenses late after missing the submission deadline.
Fergus Leung, ex-district councillor of the Central and Western District, is one of the 47 democrats accused of conspiring to commit subversion under the sweeping security legislation. Leung was among the 31 defendants who pleaded guilty.
The group is being prosecuted over an unofficial primary election for the then-postponed Legislative Council election in 2020. The maximum penalty for the charge is life imprisonment.
High Court Judge Russell Coleman on Tuesday granted Leung’s application to submit his declared expenses later than the required deadline, and exempted him from having to provide certain receipts and invoices.
Coleman ruled that while Leung was disqualified from the election in July 2020, it did not exempt him from filing the expenses declaration 60 days “after either the result of the election is notified in the Gazette, the proceedings for the election are declared to be terminated, or the election is declared to have failed.”
Following the postponement of the 2020 legislature election on July 31 of that year, ostensibly on Covid grounds, the deadline to declare expenses was set on 29 September, Coleman said. Leung had failed to comply, the judge added.
Coleman said he was satisfied that “there was no bad faith” in Leung’s case, and accepted the former district councillor’s explanation for not submitting his declaration.
Leung was among 12 democrats barred on 30 July, 2020, from running in the Legislative Council election. The government said at the time that all nominees must uphold the Basic Law, and the group was “not in compliance with the requirement under the Legislative Council Ordinance.”
“The fact that the Applicant’s nomination for candidacy was invalidated on 30 July 2020 – when viewed against the unprecedented postponement of the election – should also be given some weight in explaining why [Leung] was put off-guard as to any further duties with which he might have to comply as a candidate,” the judge wrote.
Coleman also accepted Leung’s explanation that some receipts had been lost or destroyed following a national security police raid of his office.
“There was not much he could do about the Police search, and he was held on remand when his office was vacated. I accept that any loss or destruction of documents arising from those events could be properly described as inadvertent or attributable to a reasonable cause,” Coleman ruled.
The ex-district councillor was ordered to bear the Department of Justice’s HK$29,961 legal costs.
Correction 8/2/2023: An earlier version of this article misspelled the name of Judge Russell Coleman. We regret the error.
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