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LCQ14: Combating bogus marriages
     Following is a question by the Hon James To and a written reply by the Acting Secretary for Security, Mr John Lee, in the Legislative Council today (June 7):
     Over the years, some cross-boundary syndicates have been arranging Mainlanders to enter into bogus marriages with Hong Kong residents, so that the Mainlanders concerned may apply for Permits for Proceeding to Hong Kong and Macao (commonly known as One-way Permits (OWPs)) for coming to Hong Kong for settlement. The Immigration Department (ImmD) set up a special task force in 2006 to combat the related crimes. From 2008 to 2015, ImmD investigated into 5 890 suspected cases of bogus marriage and arrested 8 655 persons, 1 550 persons of which were convicted. During the same period, the terms of imprisonment imposed on persons convicted for bogus marriage varied from 4 to 24 months while the head of a syndicate was sentenced to imprisonment for four years. However, such terms of imprisonment were much shorter than the maximum imprisonment term of 14 years as stipulated in the legislation. In this connection, will the Government inform this Council:
(1) of the respective numbers of Hong Kong residents who were prosecuted and convicted for committing bogus marriage-related crimes last year, with a breakdown by their gender and the age group to which they belonged; among the convicted persons, of the number of intermediaries and the penalties generally imposed on them;
(2) given that from 2008 to 2015, the number of persons who were prosecuted and convicted for committing bogus marriage-related crimes accounted for only about one-sixth of the number of persons arrested, whether the authorities have reviewed (i) if such ratio is relatively low (if so, of the reasons for that), (ii) the effectiveness of the work of investigating bogus marriages, and (iii) the difficulties encountered in instituting prosecutions and gathering evidence; if they have reviewed, of the outcome;
(3) in order to further combat bogus marriage-related crimes, whether the authorities will (i) allocate additional resources to ImmD so that its personnel may scrutinise cross-boundary marriage registrations more stringently, and (ii) enhance intelligence exchanges with Mainland authorities and other countries;
(4) whether the authorities have plans to discuss with Mainland authorities on issues relating to the vetting of and approval for OWPs, and propose that ImmD participate in or even take up the full responsibility for the vetting and approval work for OWPs, with a view to curbing bogus marriage-related crimes more effectively;
(5) whether the authorities have studied if the penalties imposed on the aforesaid convicted persons have sufficient deterrent effect; if they have studied and the outcome is in the negative, whether the authorities will lodge appeals against certain selected cases for the purpose of seeking the promulgation of a sentencing guideline by the Court of Appeal to set out severer sentencing yardstick; and
(6) whether the authorities have reviewed the effectiveness of the existing publicity work on the seriousness of committing bogus marriage-related crimes; apart from the publicity channels such as holding press conferences, issuing press releases and receiving media interviews, whether the authorities will employ other new means (e.g. social networks) to launch publicity work?

     Our reply to the question raised by Hon James To is as follows:
(1) In 2016, the Immigration Department (ImmD) investigated a total of 507 suspected cases of bogus marriage. Ninety-eight persons were successfully convicted, among which 84 were Hong Kong residents, including 54 males and 30 females. All the 98 convicted persons (including intermediaries) were sentenced to imprisonment ranging from four to 18 months. ImmD does not maintain other breakdown statistics mentioned in the question.
(2), (3), (5) and (6) Any person who makes use of bogus marriage or facilitates other persons to obtain the requisite documents by aiding them in contracting bogus marriages for the purpose of entering Hong Kong shall be guilty of an offence. In the course of contracting bogus marriages, and applying for entry into Hong Kong through such marriages, the persons involved may have committed offences such as bigamy, making a false oath, giving false information, making false representation to ImmD officers and conspiracy to defraud, etc. According to the prevailing legislation of Hong Kong, any person who commits the offence of conspiracy to defraud is liable on conviction to imprisonment for up to 14 years. Furthermore, it is an offence for any person to make false representation to ImmD officers. Such offenders may be prosecuted and, upon conviction, subject to the maximum penalty of a fine of $150 000 and imprisonment for 14 years. Aiders and abettors are also liable to prosecution. We believe that sentences in the past have provided effective deterrence. If ImmD considers the sentence imposed on individual cases 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's Marriage Registries have stepped up checking on suspicious marriage registrations to further combat bogus marriage. Investigation Sub-division of ImmD has also initiated investigations into suspected bogus marriage cases. In general, the enforcement officers of ImmD will collect evidence through various ways, including carrying out spot checks by home visits, collecting circumstantial evidence and proof, and conducting separate interviews with persons involved, etc, to meet the high standard required of evidence in criminal prosecutions. 
     In addition, ImmD has maintained close liaison with the Mainland, and provided Mainland enforcement authorities with information of Mainland residents who have committed offences related to bogus marriage. This enables strict scrutiny of their future applications for exit endorsements. 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 the future, ImmD will thoroughly examine their purposes of visit and may refuse their entry if their 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.
     ImmD reminds from time to time members of the public to stay within the law through press conferences, press releases and media interviews. It will continue to educate and disseminate the message to members of the public via various appropriate channels on the importance of observing the law and the serious consequences of committing the offences.
(4) Permits for Proceeding to Hong Kong and Macao, commonly known as OWPs, are documents issued by relevant authorities in the Mainland. The application, approval and issuance of OWPs fall within the remit of the Mainland authorities. According to Article 22 of the Basic Law and the interpretation by the Standing Committee of the National People's Congress in 1999, Mainland residents who wish to enter Hong Kong for whatever reason must apply to the relevant authorities of their residential districts for approval in accordance with the relevant national laws and administrative regulations, and must hold valid documents issued by the relevant authorities. Accordingly, Mainland residents who wish to settle in Hong Kong for family reunion must apply for OWPs from the exit and entry administration offices of the public security authority at the places of their household registration in the Mainland. ImmD facilitates the processing of OWP applications by the Mainland authorities at case level, including, when necessary, rendering assistance in verifying the supporting documents submitted by the applicants and their claimed relationship with relatives in Hong Kong (e.g. husband and wife). Where a case is found to be suspicious or when factual discrepancies are identified, ImmD will inform the Mainland authorities and request the applicant to provide further documentary proof. ImmD will also assist the Mainland authorities in investigating cases involving OWPs obtained through unlawful means. Taking OWP applications under the category of "reunion with spouses" as an example, in case the husband-and-wife relationship is doubtful, the Mainland authorities will pass the particulars of the applicants and their spouses in Hong Kong to ImmD for verification of the personal particulars of the Hong Kong residents, the certificates of registration of marriage in Hong Kong or other relevant records. ImmD will notify the Mainland authorities of the verification results for their follow-up actions. The Hong Kong Special Administrative Region Government does not consider that there is any need or justification to request the Mainland authorities to consider changing the existing OWP scheme or approval arrangements.
Ends/Wednesday, June 7, 2017
Issued at HKT 14:26
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