HONG KONG • A fugitive billionaire has vowed to launch a legal challenge against Hong Kong's controversial plan to sign an extradition agreement with Macau, Taiwan and mainland China, his lawyers said yesterday, adding that he has fled the financial hub.
Hong Kong property tycoon Joseph Lau is wanted in Macau where he was convicted in absentia for bribery in the gambling enclave in 2014.
He remains a free man because Hong Kong and Macau do not have an extradition agreement.
Hong Kong's government recently announced plans to overhaul its extradition rules, allowing the transfer of fugitives with Taiwan, Macau and mainland China on a "case-basis" for the first time.
The proposal has triggered large protests and mounting alarm within Hong Kong'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 legally challenge the extradition proposal, according to a court application, which also states that he has chosen to "exile himself from Hong Kong".
"The Bill, once enacted, would hang over those it affects like a cloud," his lawyers wrote in the application filed in the city's High Court. "He has felt compelled to leave Hong Kong until there is more clarity on the extradition Bill," lawyer Gerard McCoy told Agence France-Presse.
The application asks the court to declare that any extradition agreement cannot be applied retroactively, and argues that the city's leader Carrie Lam is being granted too much discretionary power to decide cases under the proposal.
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 tomorrow.
Taiwan's Mainland Affairs Council has said it may issue travel warnings if the extradition agreement included China.
The Hong Kong government backtracked last week under pressure and exempted nine primarily economic crimes from the list of offences that could be covered by the new extradition law.
The sudden plan to overhaul Hong Kong's extradition agreement was sparked by a high-profile murder in Taiwan in which a Hong Kong man allegedly strangled his pregnant girlfriend during a holiday trip and then fled.
"The Taiwanese homicide can be fixed very simply with a one-off agreement, but our client's position is that this government is using the Taiwanese incident as a false pretext" to push through broader changes that will affect Hong Kong people, Mr McCoy said.
AGENCE FRANCE-PRESSE. BLOOMBERG