When the commissioner of the Royal Hong Kong Police Li Kwan-ha retired in 1994, he was hired by Li Ka-shing to advise on security matters. Apparently the territory’s richest man was more preoccupied at the time with protecting his business secrets rather than the personal safety of his family. His elder son Victor was infamously kidnapped in 1996 and Li was forced to pay a ransom of HK$1 billion ($128 million).
“It was my mistake. We are famous but I didn’t make any security arrangements at the time,” Li Ka-shing told Southern Metropolis Daily in an interview in 2013.
According to Li’s own account, the gang’s leader Cheung Chi Keung (nicknamed Big Spender) went alone to Li’s home to collect the ransom. Li even told Cheung he’d be smart to invest the money in the shares of his own conglomerate Hutchison Whampoa. Despite the advice, Cheung gambled all the money away. That said, he called Li again several months later for further investment advice. This time, Li told him his only option was to flee far away, or a very miserable end would await him.
Obviously Cheung wasn’t listening. He masterminded the kidnap of another local property tycoon in 1997 (the former chairman of Sun Hung Kai Properties) for a ransom of HK$600 million. It was his undoing: Cheung was arrested in Guangdong province in January 1998, and was executed in the same year.
The sense of insecurity instilled by Big Spender’s escapades has begun to resurface of late, particularly for Hong Kong’s rich. A gang of six broke into a luxury home in the territory’s Clearwater Bay area late last month. The gang stole about HK$2 million of cash and abducted a 29 year-old woman in the house. They later demanded HK$50 million from her family for her safe return. After negotiating, the ransom was lowered to HK$28 million.
The gangsters released the woman (who was later revealed to be a member of the family which owns the Bossini fashion chain) shortly after receiving the money. The police soon launched a massive manhunt. Hundreds of armed police threw up roadblocks and a dragnet seeking to prevent the suspects from escaping back across the border into Guangdong.
Similarly serious crimes have been rare in Hong Kong in the past 15 years – and for a good reason. With a population of seven million, Hong Kong has more than 33,000 policemen. The United Nations ranks the city as the world’s fifth most heavily policed territory. Thanks to that manpower – as well as cooperation from mainland authorities – all of the kidnappers were captured within a week of the abduction (one was arrested in Hong Kong and the rest in Guangdong). All six were mainland Chinese. Chinese authorities said this week a further two suspects were also arrested on the mainland, although only HK$2.8 million, or one tenth of the ransom, has so far been recovered.
The chain of events soon had media buzzing. In Hong Kong, observers voiced concern that cross-border crimes are on the rise, a trend that likely coincides with the Chinese economy slowing down. The Ming Pao newspaper noted that there were at least 20 burglaries reported in luxury residential areas over the past 12 months. “The police should stay alert if more criminals are targeting Hong Kong,” the paper said.
This concern may not be entirely ungrounded. A 27 year-old from Guangdong was arrested in Shenzhen last month on suspiction of perpetrating an armed robbery a month earlier in Hong Kong involving a watch retailer in a prime shopping area and which saw a sales assistant shot in the chest.
Ambrose Lee, the former security chief of the Hong Kong government (now a political advisor to Beijing), has even blamed the rising crime rate on local political activists, saying their behaviour is forging a sense of lawlessness. Lee was referring to demonstrators who took part in last year’s pro-democracy Occupy movement (see WiC276), and to protests against mainland tourists (see WiC271). “When people grow disrespectful of the police’s law enforcement, in the long run this only benefits such big thieves,” said Lee.
Ironically the latest kidnap case only looks to have highlighted the difference between the Chinese legal system and that of Hong Kong. The Yazhou Zhoukan magazine noted that since there is no extradition arrangement between the two sides, two parallel trials are likely. “The criminal arrested in Hong Kong is luckier, because he will definitely not be sentenced to death,” the magazine said, implying that it’s almost certain the five in Guangdong will be executed.
And for tycoon Li Ka-shing there has been another unwelcome house guest, it emerges. A 19 year-old tried to break into his mansion last month. The jobless mainlander was accused of burglary, but the charges were dropped last week because of insufficient evidence. He was deported back to the mainland.
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