HONG KONG – A fugitive billionaire has vowed to launch a legal challenge against Hong Kong’s controversial plan to sign an extradition agreement with Macao, Taiwan and mainland China, his lawyers said Monday.
Hong Kong property tycoon Joseph Lau is wanted in Macao where he was convicted in absentia for bribery in the gambling enclave in 2014.
He remains a free man because Hong Kong and Macao do not currently have an extradition agreement.
Hong Kong’s government has recently announced plans to overhaul its extradition rules, allowing the transfer of fugitives with Taiwan, Macao and mainland China on a “case-basis” for the first time.
The proposal has sparked large protests and mounting alarm within the city’s business and legal communities who fear it will hammer the financial hub’s international appeal and tangle people up in China’s opaque courts.
Lau has applied for leave to challenge the government’s extradition proposal in the courts, law firm Sit, Fung, Kwong & Shum said in a statement.
“On behalf of Mr. Lau, we have today issued an application in the High Court of Hong Kong for leave to apply for judicial review,” the statement read.
Thousands of protesters hit the streets of Hong Kong on Sunday to demonstrate against the new extradition proposal, which will be discussed in the city’s legislature on Wednesday.
Even a number of pro-Beijing politicians and prominent businesspeople have joined a growing chorus of opposition, while Taiwan’s Mainland Affairs Council said it may issue travel warnings if the extradition agreement included China.
The proposal comes at a time of roiling distrust over how Beijing wields its authoritarian legal system — and as two Canadian nationals languish in Chinese custody following the arrest of a top Huawei executive in Vancouver.
The Hong Kong government backtracked last week under pressure and exempted nine primarily economic crimes from the list of offenses that could be covered by the new extradition law.
Critics fear any extradition agreement could leave both business figures and dissidents in Hong Kong vulnerable to China’s politicized courts, fatally undermining a business hub that has thrived off its reputation for a transparent and independent judiciary.
The sudden plan to overhaul Hong Kong’s extradition agreement was sparked by a high-profile murder in Taiwan where a Hong Kong man allegedly strangled his pregnant girlfriend during a holiday trip and then fled.
Historically Hong Kong has balked at extraditing to the mainland because of the opacity of China’s criminal justice system, and the death penalty — which has been abolished in Hong Kong.
Lau made headlines in 2015 when he spent a combined $76.9 million at auction to buy two rare diamonds for his young daughter.