Hong Kong’s government lost a bid to appeal a ruling that the Chinese city’s laws don’t criminalize conspiracy in the territory to pay overseas bribes.
Justice Roberto Ribeiro of the Court of Final Appeal today dismissed the application by the Director of Public Prosecutions to hear arguments over the Prevention of Bribery Ordinance. The three-judge panel will deliver its reasons later, he said.
Hong Kong’s Court of Appeal last year overturned the convictions of Lionel Krieger and James Tam, directors of a Swire Pacific Ltd. waste management subsidiary, for conspiring to bribe Macau’s former public works chief Ao Man-long, ruling that the law doesn’t cover offers made outside Hong Kong, even if they were planned in the city.
Alice Chan, senior assistant director of public prosecutions, said she couldn’t comment on today’s decision until the written judgment was handed down.
While Hong Kong’s anti-graft efforts from the 1970s have been successful locally, the city probably exports about HK$30 billion ($3.9 billion) each year in corruption to developing countries through bribes of foreign officials, according to Bryane Michael, who has worked for the World Bank and advised the Hong Kong government.
Questions remain as to how effectively the U.K. law criminalizing the bribery of foreign officials can be investigated and enforced, according to Martin Rogers, a Hong Kong-based partner at law firm Davis Polk & Wardwell LLP.
“With the limited resources of Hong Kong’s Independent Commission Against Corruption, this decision puts sensible limits on the scope of allegations it is obliged to investigate,” he said.
Hong Kong and Macau, two former European colonies that are now special administrative regions of China separated by a one-hour ferry ride, have been discussing a mutual legal assistance agreement including surrender of fugitives.
Chinese Estates Holdings Ltd. former chairman Joseph Lau and BMA Investment chairman Steven Lo remain free after being convicted in March in Macau of bribing Ao to secure a piece of land for a luxury housing project. Lau didn’t attend the trial and Lo wasn’t in court for the verdict. Both are appealing their convictions. Ao was sentenced to 29 years imprisonment in May 2012.
The case is HKSAR v. Lionel John Krieger, Tam Ping Cheong James, FAMC1/2014, Hong Kong Court of Final Appeal.
(An earlier version of this story was corrected to say Lo wasn’t in court for his conviction.)