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LCQ7: Red packets and donations received by monks and nuns

     Following is a question by the Hon Leung Yiu-chung and a written reply by the Secretary for Home Affairs, Mr Lau Kong-wah, in the Legislative Council today (February 24):


     It has been reported that due to old age or other reasons, most of the monks and nuns in Hong Kong rarely officiate at or participate in religious activities of festivals and funerals. As a result, some mainland monks, nuns or individuals have been invited to Hong Kong to officiate at or participate in religious activities and they have received red packets afterwards. Moreover, some Mainlanders, after entering Hong Kong with travel endorsements, have dressed as monks and nuns and appealed for money or sold prayer beads on the streets. On the other hand, it has been reported that last year, a local nun purchased a luxurious apartment with cash, and the source of the funding concerned was suspected to be worshippers' donations. In this connection, will the Government inform this Council:

(1) whether the authorities conducted any investigation in the past three years into incidents of Mainlanders coming to Hong Kong to officiate at or participate in religious activities; if they did, of the outcome, including how they handled substantiated cases of Mainlanders coming to Hong Kong to officiate at or participate in religious activities and receiving red packets afterwards; if they did not conduct any investigation in this regard, the reasons for that;

(2) of the actions to be taken by the authorities to stop Mainlanders, dressed as monks and nuns, from appealing for money or selling prayer beads on the streets; and

(3) whether the authorities have studied if monks and nuns, including the nun in the aforesaid case, are required to report the red packets or donations received from worshippers as taxable income and pay relevant taxes for such income; if they have studied and the outcome is in the affirmative, whether the authorities took any follow-up action in the past three years in respect of cases in which the monks and nuns concerned had failed to file tax returns and pay taxes; if they did, of the details; if not, the reasons for that?



     To protect the freedom of religious belief, the Government does not interfere with religious activities conducted or participated by individuals whose behaviour shall, however, abide by the laws of Hong Kong.  Upon consultation with relevant bureaux and departments, our consolidated reply to parts (1) to (3) of the questions is as follows:

(1) Members of religious groups may apply to the Immigration Department (ImmD) for necessary visas or entry permits if they want to come to Hong Kong to officiate at activities.  The ImmD is committed to the combat and prevention of acts in breach of the conditions of stay by visitors (including Mainland visitors), such as engaging in unlawful employment. The ImmD will take measures and carry out enforcement actions, conduct detailed investigation, and press charges against offenders when there is sufficient evidence of offence. The ImmD does not maintain statistical figures of investigation on Mainlanders coming to Hong Kong to officiate at or participate in religious rituals.

     Under the current legislation, visitors are not allowed to take up employment in Hong Kong, whether paid or unpaid, without the permission of the Director of Immigration. Offenders are liable on conviction to a maximum fine of $50,000 and to imprisonment for up to two years.  Aiders and abettors are subject to the same penalty.

(2) Any person who begs or gathers alms at any public place may contravene Section 26A of the Summary Offences Ordinance (Cap. 228). On conviction for a first or second offence, the person is liable to a fine of $500 and to imprisonment for one month; and for a third or subsequent offence, to a fine of $500 and to imprisonment for 12 months. The Police will initiate investigation against persons suspected of engaging in begging activities in Hong Kong, and take appropriate actions based on the circumstances of each case. Regardless of whether the persons concerned are Hong Kong residents, the Police will consider whether to lay related charges based on the evidence available. The Police call on the public to make a report if they encounter suspected illegal begging or fund-raising activities by "persons who appear to be monks" or by other persons.

(3) Under the Inland Revenue Ordinance (IRO), salaries tax shall be charged on every person in respect of his income arising in or derived from Hong Kong from any office or employment of profit or any pension, and profits tax shall be charged on every person carrying on a trade, profession or business in Hong Kong in respect of his assessable profits arising in or derived from Hong Kong.  Whether a sum received under certain specific circumstances is chargeable income or assessable profit shall be determined after consideration of all details of individual cases. If there is information which indicates that any person may have evaded tax or submitted incorrect return, the Inland Revenue Department (IRD) will follow up as appropriate. Given the official secrecy provision under the IRO, the IRD will not disclose tax information of any person or comment on individual cases.

Ends/Wednesday, February 24, 2016
Issued at HKT 15:15


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