LCQ6: Enforcement actions against bogus marriages and related offences
Recently, it came to my notice that a recruitment advertisement for a job offering handsome remunerations was circulating on the social network but it gave no details about the job nature. I then arranged my staff to get in touch with the recruiter by telephone, and learnt that to earn a wedding cash gift of as high as $200,000, the employed person only needed to first apply for a certificate of absence of marriage record at a law firm in Hong Kong, and then go to the Mainland to undergo marriage procedure with the Mainlander concerned. The recruiter stressed that the particulars of the employed person would be kept confidential, and that the marriage relationship would be maintained only for a period between six months and one year; such practice would not be regarded as bogus marriage, and was legal and would bear no consequences. Such recruitment advertisement shows that some lawbreakers have employed a new tactic to mislead members of the public into committing crimes relating to bogus marriages. Given that the summer break is drawing near, quite a number of parents are worried that young people will breach the law inadvertently as they want to make quick money. In this connection, will the Government inform this Council:
(1) whether the authorities will adopt new measures to combat crimes relating to bogus marriages, such as collecting evidence by carrying out decoy operations during investigations, increasing the manpower for proactive investigations into suspicious cases, and seeking the imposition of heavier penalties on offenders (in particular the intermediaries and heads of bogus marriage syndicates) by the court;
(2) as the summer break is drawing near, whether the Immigration Department and the Mainland law enforcement agencies will, apart from exchanging intelligence on a regular basis, step up law enforcement actions to combat crimes relating to bogus marriages; and
(3) how the authorities will enhance the publicity targeting young people, reminding them not to commit crimes relating to bogus marriages; of the channels through which those young people who have been misled into committing crimes relating to bogus marriages may seek assistance from the authorities?
The Government has always been concerned about bogus marriages. In order to deal with the problem more effectively, the Immigration Department (ImmD) set up a special task force in 2006 to step up enforcement actions against persons seeking entry into Hong Kong by means of bogus marriages and intermediaries aiding others to seek entry into Hong Kong through such means. ImmD has been closely monitoring the latest trends and practices in arranging bogus marriages by intermediaries and syndicates, including the use of instant messaging software and social networking mobile applications. When suspected cases are identified, ImmD will proactively collect evidence through various channels, conduct thorough investigations into parties to the suspected bogus marriages and relevant intermediaries, and prosecute offenders where there is sufficient evidence.
Any persons who make use of bogus marriage to obtain the requisite documents for the purpose of entering Hong Kong, or any persons who facilitate others to achieve such purpose through arranging bogus marriages for them, shall be guilty of an offence. In the course of contracting bogus marriages, and applying for entries into Hong Kong through such marriages, the persons involved may have committed offences such as conspiracy to defraud, making false representation to ImmD officers, making a false oath, giving false declaration and bigamy, etc., and are liable on conviction to imprisonment for up to 14 years.
My reply to the questions raised by the Dr Hon Elizabeth Quat is as follows:
ImmD will continue to step up enforcement actions against bogus marriages and related offences, including –
To step up immigration examination on arrivals
When conducting immigration examinations on arriving passengers, ImmD will critically scrutinise doubtful visitors coming to visit their spouses in Hong Kong on the strength of "Tanqin" (visiting relatives) exit endorsements and refuse their entries if their purposes of visit are in doubt. In case there is evidence showing that the person concerned commits an offence, such as making false representation to ImmD officers, in-depth investigations will be conducted by enforcement officers of ImmD and prosecution actions will be taken.
To conduct anti-illegal workers operations
Many involved in bogus marriages in the past aimed at seeking illegal employment in Hong Kong. ImmD therefore pays particular attention to Mainland residents holding "Tanqin" exit endorsements during anti-illegal worker operations. In-depth investigations will be mounted against any suspected cases of "Tanqin" exit endorsements obtained as a result of bogus marriages.
To step up operations against intermediaries
Many bogus marriage cases in the past involved intermediaries arranging Mainland residents to contract bogus marriages with Hong Kong residents and then applying for the requisite documents to enter Hong Kong. ImmD has all along been paying attention to and conducts investigations into doubtful intermediaries. It also cooperates with the Mainland authorities by exchanging intelligence with a view to combating intermediaries and bogus marriage syndicates involved in cross-border crimes.
Besides, the special task force of ImmD also keeps track of the trend of bogus marriages and collects intelligence from various channels, including advertisements with wordings such as "quick money" and "cross-boundary matchmaking" in instant messaging and social networking mobile applications, newspapers, web pages, etc. It will conduct in-depth investigations into suspicious marriage intermediaries.
To step up checking of doubtful marriage registration cases
Apart from the special task force, the Marriage Registries of ImmD are also involved in combating bogus marriages. Marriage Registries have stepped up checking on each of suspicious marriage registration cases to more effectively identify dubious cases of suspected double marriages in the Mainland and Hong Kong. Meanwhile, the Investigation Sub-division of ImmD also initiates investigations into any suspected bogus marriage cases. With these measures in place, a number of suspected cases were swiftly detected and successfully prosecuted.
ImmD will make flexible deployment of manpower in the light of the effectiveness of the above measures and operational needs to continue with its enforcement actions against bogus marriages. It will also review the manpower requirements as necessary. In response to the trend of bogus marriage and the circumstances of individual cases, ImmD will also take appropriate measures to collect intelligence and evidence to further combat the intermediaries and masterminds of bogus marriage syndicates proactively.
From 2008 to 2016, 1 648 persons, including intermediaries and parties to suspected bogus marriages, were successfully prosecuted by ImmD. Apart from a small number of cases where the convicted were sentenced to Community Service Orders of 80 hours or above, the majority of the convicted were sentenced to imprisonment from 4 to 24 months. In one such cases, the head of a syndicate was sentenced to imprisonment for 48 months.
Regarding the sentence, if ImmD considers the sentence imposed on an individual case too light to properly reflect the gravity of the offences and provide effective deterrent, it will seek legal advice from the Department of Justice on whether to request for a review of sentence or to apply for leave to appeal.
ImmD has maintained close liaison with the Mainland authorities to combat crimes related to bogus marriages. In addition, ImmD will notify the Mainland authorities of Mainland residents who are suspected to be involved in bogus marriages. This enables the Mainland authorities to strictly scrutinise their future applications for exit endorsements. The Mainland authorities will also refer cases of suspected bogus marriages to ImmD for follow-up. When persons involved in those cases come to Hong Kong in future, ImmD will thoroughly examine their purposes of visit and refuse the entry of any visitors whose purposes of visit are in doubt. For persons who are found to have obtained their residence in Hong Kong by fraudulent means, their Hong Kong identity cards or residence status will be invalidated according to the laws of Hong Kong. They will also be subject to removal to their places of origin.
To remind members of the public, including young people, of the possible consequences of participating in bogus marriages and the serious implications of committing related offences, ImmD has from time to time announced the information on crackdown of bogus marriage syndicates and successful prosecutions of intermediaries and participants through press conferences, press releases and media interviews, etc. ImmD will continue to deliver such messages via various innovative channels, such as producing and uploading short videos at ImmD's channel on YouTube, etc. If any members of the public have unfortunately become victims of bogus marriages or intend to provide information on suspicious bogus marriage cases, they may report to ImmD at any time through various channels.
Thank you, President.
Ends/Wednesday, July 5, 2017
Issued at HKT 16:10
Issued at HKT 16:10