Contributed By Baker McKenzie
Under the laws of Hong Kong, there are two main categories of offences: “summary offences” (ie, minor offences that can generally only be tried in the Magistrates’ Courts) and “indictable offences” (ie, more serious offences that can be tried at any level of the court, depending on the complexity of the case and the likely sentence). Most white-collar crimes are indictable offences.
Most criminal offences require (i) actus reus – a guilty act or omission, and (ii) mens rea – a guilty state of mind.
The prosecution has to prove both elements beyond reasonable doubt. However, certain minor criminal offences, known as “strict liability offences”, do not have a mens rea element. All that needs to be shown is that the defendant committed the act or omission.
A person may be liable for attempting to commit an offence, even if the offence is not completed. Under Section 159G of the Crimes Ordinance (Chapter 200) (CO), any person who “does an act that is more than merely preparatory to the commission of the offence” is guilty of attempting to commit the offence. Similarly, under Section 159A of the CO, any persons who agree to pursue a course of conduct which will necessarily amount to or involve the commission of any offence are guilty of conspiracy to commit the offence. Section 159A replaces the common law offence of conspiracy, except for the common law offence of conspiracy to defraud.
A person guilty of attempting to commit an offence (Section 159G) or conspiracy to commit an offence (Section 159A) is liable on conviction to the maximum penalty prescribed for the offence itself. A person convicted of the common law offence of conspiracy to defraud is liable to 14 years’ imprisonment.
There is no formal limitation period for indictable offences.
For summary offences, unless otherwise specified in the governing legislation, the limitation period for making any complaint or laying any information is six months.
Hong Kong does not have a specific statute of limitations dealing with concealed and/or continuing offences.
Generally, the Hong Kong authorities/courts only have jurisdiction to enforce their authority for criminal offences committed within the territorial jurisdiction of Hong Kong. If a certain aspect or element of an offence occurs abroad, the Hong Kong authorities/courts will have to assess whether "a substantial measure of the activities constituting a crime" occurred in Hong Kong (see HKSAR v Krieger  HKCA 639).
Certain white-collar offences have extra-territorial reach, as in the following examples.
Legal entities may be liable for most criminal offences, as the definition of “persons” under the Interpretation and General Clauses Ordinance (Chapter 1) includes corporations.
Criminal liability can be ascribed to a company by way of the “identification principle”, which provides that a company can be liable for criminal offences committed by individuals who represent the directing mind and will of the company (typically, directors and senior managers). However, the usual practice is for the authorities to pursue the individuals for criminal offences rather than the corporate. If a legal entity is liable for a criminal offence, certain officers or employees of the entity may also be found liable for the same offence.
Generally, in Hong Kong, a successor entity will not be held liable for offences committed by the target entity that occurred before a merger or acquisition.
A victim of a white-collar offence may claim compensation for their loss via criminal proceedings. These are initiated by the Department of Justice (DOJ) (except for private prosecutions, which are rare). The trial court may make an order for restitution following a subsequent conviction.
A victim may also claim compensation for their loss via civil proceedings. This will be heard in the Small Claims Tribunal, District Court or High Court, depending on the amount claimed. This is the only option where it is not possible to commence criminal proceedings against the criminal suspect.
There is no class action mechanism in Hong Kong. The only equivalent, which is for civil cases only, is “representative proceedings” under Order 15 of the Rules of the High Court (Chapter 4A).
Anti-bribery and Anti-corruption
In HKSAR v Chu Ang  HKCFA 18, the Hong Kong Court of Final Appeal clarified that a person is an “agent” for the purposes of Section 9(1)(a) of POBO where that person acts for another in circumstances that give rise to a reasonable expectation (and hence a duty) to act honestly and in the interests of that other person to the exclusion of their own interests. No pre-existing legal relationship is required for one to be an “agent” of another.
National Security Law
The National Security Law (NSL) was passed on 30 June 2020 by the Standing Committee of the National People’s Congress (NPCSC), introducing new offences for actions that threaten national security. The CO also prescribes offences relating to sedition. On 7 July 2020, the Implementation Rules for Article 43 of the National Security Law took effect, providing for rules around implementing Article 43 of the NSL. Since its enactment, there have been a number of enforcement actions for offences alleged under the NSL or seditious offences under the CO.
Emphasis on Corporate Governance
The growing focus on Environmental, Social and Governance (ESG) matters globally has also resulted in some developments in the regulation of white-collar crime in Hong Kong through the increased emphasis placed on corporate governance. For example, the Securities and Futures Commission (SFC) issued guidance reminding intermediaries of their obligations to put in place robust internal control systems to prevent contraventions of the POBO. The Stock Exchange of Hong Kong (SEHK) amended the Listing Rules and Corporate Governance Code to highlight the importance of whistle-blowing and anti-corruption policies as part of good corporate governance among issuers.
The main authority having powers of investigation, prosecution and enforcement for white-collar offences is the Hong Kong Police Force (HK Police). The HK Police has specialised divisions, such as the Commercial Crime Bureau, the Cybersecurity and Technology Crime Bureau, the Organised Crime and Triad Bureau, and the National Security Department.
The other key authorities include:
White-collar investigations are usually initiated when the relevant authority receives a complaint or has a suspicion that an offence has been committed.
Each authority has their own rules or guidelines in relation to the proper conduct of an investigation (eg, the Police Force Ordinance, the ICAC Ordinance, the SFO).
Each investigative authority has different powers to gather information and documents related to the offences. Such powers include the following.
The ICAC, FRC, Hong Kong Monetary Authority and SFC also have the power to compel persons to attend an interview and answer questions (Section 14, POBO; Section 25 of FRC Ordinance (Chapter 588); Section 12 of Anti-Money Laundering Counter-Terrorist Financing Ordinance (AMLO); Section 118 of the Banking Ordinance (BO); and Section 183 SFO).
Internal investigations are not strictly required under Hong Kong law. However, with respect to civil and disciplinary proceedings undertaken by the SFC and HKMA (including Market Misconduct Tribunal (MMT) Proceedings), substantial co-operation – including disclosing the results of an internal investigation – may result in reduced sanctions.
Since April 2019, the SFC has required licensed corporations and registered institutions to disclose information relating to the circumstances of any licensed employee's departure, including whether the employee was subject to an internal investigation in the six months prior to their departure, regardless of whether it relates to regulated or unregulated activities. Similar requirements apply for HKMA-regulated entities.
Hong Kong is a party to a number of bilateral and multilateral mutual legal assistance treaties. The Mutual Legal Assistance in Criminal Matters Ordinance (Chapter 525) (MLAO) allows the Secretary for Justice to make arrangements for the provision of certain assistance. This includes the taking of oral evidence and production of material before a magistrate, search and seizure of material under search warrants, obtaining of material under production orders and arranging for travel of persons to another place to assist in criminal investigation or proceedings.
The domestic legal framework for mutual legal assistance is covered by a number of statutes, including the following.
Hong Kong is a party to various multilateral treaties which provide mutual legal assistance in criminal matters, including:
Parties to these Conventions may seek assistance from Hong Kong pursuant to the provisions in them for mutual legal assistance.
International regulatory assistance
In addition to the above, the Hong Kong financial regulators – including the SFC and HKMA – have signed several memoranda of understandings (MOUs) with overseas regulatory bodies. These include both bilateral co-operation agreements (eg, the HKMA has entered into MOUs and other formal arrangements with the banking supervisory authorities outside of Hong Kong) and multilateral co-operation agreements (eg, the SFC has signed the Enhanced Multilateral MOU of the International Organization of Securities Commissions (IOSCO) to facilitate the exchange of information with other international regulatory signatories).
There are no direct blocking statutes in Hong Kong. However, there are laws and statutes which may limit the scope of extra-jurisdictional application of foreign laws, such as the data privacy law in Hong Kong, which restricts the provision of private data or evidence to overseas courts or regulators (subject to exemptions).
Enforcement bodies initiate white-collar prosecution by charging individual defendants, or by issuing a summons requiring them to attend court. Criminal proceedings are initiated against corporate entities by way of summons. Certain types of prosecutions require the Secretary for Justice’s prior consent, so as to ensure that there is an appropriate level of scrutiny.
The decision to prosecute includes consideration of whether the admissible evidence available is sufficient to justify the institution or the continuation of proceedings, and whether the general public interest requires the prosecution to be conducted.
In assessing the requirements of the public interest, the prosecutor will consider factors including:
The laws of Hong Kong do not provide for alternative mechanisms to resolve a criminal investigation without a trial, including deferred prosecution agreement, non-prosecution agreement or the equivalent. That said, it is open to the DOJ to grant a "bind-over" order to an individual in lieu of a conviction. Bind-over orders usually arise in minor offences only, and not white-collar offences.
A defendant may voluntarily agree with the prosecution to plead guilty to lesser charges or a reduced number of charges, based on a set of agreed facts to be presented to the court for sentencing, in order to resolve the criminal proceedings. However, a defendant cannot agree with the prosecution on the sentence.
For a plea agreement to be approved, three tests must be satisfied:
Furthermore, the court adopts the following guidelines for determining the amount of discount in a sentence to be given to a defendant for a guilty plea:
The main offences in a corporate context under Hong Kong law include the following.
Fraud (Section 16A, Theft Ordinance (TO))
This arises where a person, by deceit and with intent to defraud, induces another person to do an act (or not do an act) which benefits or prejudices another person. The maximum penalty is 14 years’ imprisonment.
Theft (Sections 2 and 9, TO)
This arises where a person dishonestly appropriates property belonging to another with the intent to permanently deprive them of it. The maximum penalty is ten years’ imprisonment.
Obtaining Property, Pecuniary Advantage or Services by Deception (Sections 17, 18 and 18A, TO)
This arises where a person by deception dishonestly obtains for themselves (or another person) any property, pecuniary advantage or services. The maximum penalty is ten years’ imprisonment.
False Accounting (Section 19, TO)
This arises where a person destroys, defaces, conceals or falsifies any account, record or document which is made/required for accounting purpose, or produces/makes use of any account, record or document in a way which they know is or may be materially misleading, false or deceptive. The maximum penalty is ten years’ imprisonment.
Section 9(3) of the POBO contains a similar offence. It applies where an agent uses a materially false, erroneous or defective document to deceive their principal.
False Statements by Company Directors, etc (Section 21, TO)
This arises where an officer of a body corporate or unincorporated association publishes a written statement/account which they know is or may be materially misleading, false or deceptive, with the intent to deceive its members or creditors about its affairs. The maximum penalty is ten years’ imprisonment.
Forgery (Section 71, Crimes Ordinance (CO))
This arises where a person makes a false instrument, with the intent to use it to induce someone to accept it as genuine, and to do (or not do an act) because of that acceptance. The maximum penalty is 14 years’ imprisonment.
Use or Possession of a False Instrument (Sections 73 and 75, CO)
This arises where a person uses a false instrument which they know or believe to be false, with the intent to induce someone to accept it as genuine, and to do (or not do an act) because of that acceptance. The maximum penalty is 14 years’ imprisonment.
Dealing with Proceeds of Crime (Section 25, Organised and Serious Crimes Ordinance (Chapter 455) (OSCO); Section 25, Drug Trafficking (Recovery of Proceeds Ordinance))
This arises where a person who deals with property which they know or have reasonable grounds to believe that represents a person’s proceeds of an indictable offence. The maximum penalty is a HKD5 million fine and 14 years’ imprisonment.
The anti-bribery/influence peddling provisions in Hong Kong cover both public and private sectors.
Public Sector Bribery
The main offences in the public sector context include the following.
Soliciting or accepting an advantage (Section 3, POBO)
This arises where a prescribed officer (eg, government officials) solicits or accepts an advantage without the chief executive’s permission.
Bribery (Section 4, POBO)
This arises where a person offers an advantage to a public servant as an inducement to, reward for or otherwise on account of that public servant performing, expediting, delaying, hindering, preventing, assisting, favouring, etc, certain acts without lawful authority or reasonable excuse (eg, informed consent from the public servant’s employer). This provision also applies vice versa – that is, where a public servant solicits or accepts the advantage from another person to do (or not do) these acts.
The maximum penalty for an offence under Section 4 is a fine of HKD500,000 and seven years' imprisonment (Section 12(1)(a)(iii), POBO).
Private Sector Bribery
The main offence in the private context involves corrupt transactions with agents (Section 9(1) and (2), POBO). This provision applies in situations where there is a principal-agent relationship (eg, between an employer and employee) and prohibits the agent from soliciting or accepting an advantage without lawful authority or reasonable excuse as an inducement to, reward for or otherwise on account for the agent doing (or not doing) an act in relation to their principal’s affairs. This provision also applies vice versa – that is, where a third party offers the unauthorised advantage to the agent.
There are notable exceptions to these offences, such as the following.
As to the jurisdictional limits of these provisions, Sections 3 and 4 have extra-territorial effect and prohibit corrupt conduct outside of Hong Kong as well (eg, offering a bribe to a Hong Kong government official whilst they are abroad). However, these Sections only apply to “prescribed officers” and “public servants” of Hong Kong (Section 2). Foreign public officials do not fall within the ambit of these defined terms. This is not to suggest that it is permissible to offer advantages to foreign public officials whilst they are in Hong Kong. Such conduct will likely be contrary to Section 9(1) and (2).
As for an offence under Section 9, the maximum penalty is a HKD500,000 fine and seven years’ imprisonment (Section 12(1)(a)(iii), POBO).
The ICAC has recently issued a reminder about the prevalence of bribery and corruption-related acts in the insurance sector. It noted that corruption-facilitated insurance scams have become more sophisticated and reiterated the need to take proactive measures in combating such activity.
Separately, there has been an increasing number of joint operations between the ICAC and other financial regulators (eg, SFC, FRC, HKMA, IA). This trend is likely to continue for the foreseeable future.
Hong Kong does not impose a general obligation to prevent bribery and influence peddling. However, there are certain individuals and institutions (eg, licensed persons, banks, listed companies) which are subject to regulatory requirements, such as fitness and properness. This may create an obligation to take measures to prevent, detect and self-report corrupt conduct such as the following.
Regulated persons and entities who fail to comply may face serious penalties (fines, deregistration, delisting, disqualification, etc).
Insider Dealing and Market Abuse
The SFO is the governing legislation in respect of offences involving insider dealing and market abuse. It contains a parallel civil and criminal regime (Parts XIII and XIV of the SFO). It prohibits six types of market misconduct, as follows.
Insider dealing (Sections 270 and 291)
Insider dealing arises when a person connected with a corporation who has insider information deals in its listed securities or derivatives. It also applies where a person possesses information which they know is inside information and deal with the corporation's listed securities or derivatives (or counsel/procure someone to do so).
Defences to insider dealing
Sections 271 to 273, and 292 to 294 of the SFO set out defences to insider dealing. Under these provisions, certain persons, trustees and personal representatives acting in certain ways will not be regarded as having engaged in market misconduct. In the case of a corporation, it is worth noting that Sections 271(2) and 292(2) provide for a “Chinese wall” defence (ie, information barrier).
False trading (Sections 274 and 295)
False trading occurs when there are acts done with the intention (or being reckless as to whether it has or is likely) to create certain false or misleading appearances, such as the appearance of active trading, the price of securities or futures contracts. These include:
Price rigging (Sections 275 and 296)
Price rigging arises where a person:
The above apply to both securities traded on a relevant recognised market or by means of authorised automated trading services, as well as securities traded on a relevant overseas market.
Defences to price rigging
The first limb above is a strict liability offence. The prosecution only needs to prove the relevant guilty act. More generally, it is a defence if the person accused shows that the purposes of committing the act did not include creating a false or misleading appearance of active trading or the price for dealings in those securities (Sections 275(4) and 296(5), SFO).
Stock market manipulation (Sections 278 and 299)
This offence arises where a person engages in two or more transactions in securities that increase, reduce, maintain or stabilise (or are likely to have any of these effects) the price of any securities traded on a relevant recognised market or by means of authorised automated trading services, with the intention to induce others’ investment decisions. Sections 278 and 299 only apply to securities and not futures contracts.
Disclosure of information about prohibited transactions (Sections 276 and 297)
The offence of disclosure of information about prohibited transactions arises where:
Defences to disclosure of information about prohibited transactions
If a person is accused of market misconduct because of disclosure of information about prohibited transactions on the basis that they (or their associate) received or expected to receive a benefit, it is a defence if the accused person shows that (Sections 276(2) and 297(3), SFO):
Disclosure of false or misleading information inducing transactions (Sections 277 and 298)
The offence of disclosure of false or misleading information inducing transactions arises:
The omission of a material fact may also lead to information being deemed as “false or misleading”.
Defence to disclosure of false or misleading information about transactions
It is a defence if the accused person shows that (Sections 277(2) and 298(3), SFO):
Similarly, re-transmission and broadcasting of information operates as defences in certain circumstances – for example, media outlets (Sections 277(3), (4) and 298(4), (5), SFO).
It is also an offence to attempt to engage in, or aid, abet, counsel, procure, induce, etc, another person to engage in the above offences (Section 390,SFO; Section 159G, CO).
A person in breach of any market misconduct may be subject to either the civil or criminal sanctions depending on the seriousness of the violation. MMT is the body responsible for conducting civil proceedings and imposing civil sanctions for market misconduct, while the courts are responsible for criminal proceedings.
The SFO operates on a "no double jeopardy" basis. Thus, a party cannot and will not be subject to both civil and criminal proceedings. However, irrespective of whether the SFC opts for the civil or criminal route, the SFC may commence proceedings under Section 213 of the SFO, in seeking to impose penalties (eg, restraining orders).
The MMT is empowered to impose the various sanctions under the civil regime (Sections 257, SFO). These include disqualification orders, cold shoulder orders, cease and desist orders, disgorgement orders, costs orders and disciplinary referral orders.
Non-compliance with MMT orders under Section 257(1)(a) to (c) may result in a maximum penalty of a HKD1 million fine and two years’ imprisonment (Section 257(10)).
Criminal proceedings for market misconduct offences can result in a fine of up to HKD10 million and/or ten years’ imprisonment. The court may also impose disqualification orders, cold shoulder orders, disciplinary referral orders and costs orders, in addition to the aforementioned fine and imprisonment (Section 303(2)).
Criminal Banking Law
In Hong Kong, institutions intended to carry out a banking business must apply for a banking licence from the HKMA and be authorised under Section 16(1) of the BO.
A director, chief executive and manager of an authorised institution who contravenes any condition attached to its authorisation commits an offence (Section 16(8), BO). They will be liable (in the case of a conviction on indictment) to a fine at tier 7 (ie, HKD400,000). If the offence continues, there will be a further fine of tier 2 (ie, HKD10,000) for each day it continues.
Under Section 116 of the SFO, every company or individual intending to carry out regulated activities in Hong Kong in relation to financial solicitation must apply for the relevant license from the SFC (eg, Type 1 – dealing in securities).
It is an offence if a person, without reasonable excuse, carries out a regulated activity without the necessary SFC license. The maximum penalty (if convicted on indictment) is a HKD5 million fine and seven years’ imprisonment. In the case of a continuing offence, there may be a further fine of up to HKD100,000 for every day it continues (Section 114(8), SFO).
Tax-related offences are prosecuted under the Inland Revenue Ordinance (Chapter 112) (IRO), which imposes requirements in relation to: filing timely and accurate returns, keeping and retention of records; establishing, maintaining and applying due diligence procedures for financial account information. There is also a common law offence prohibiting "cheating" in relation to public revenue.
Any person who wilfully with intent to evade or to assist any other person to evade tax by, for example, making false statements or preparing any false books or records (Section 82 of IRO), will be liable to a fine of HKD50,000, a further fine of treble the amount of the tax undercharged and three years' imprisonment.
Any person who without reasonable excuse fails to comply with Section 80(2) of IRO by, for instance, giving any incorrect information or failing to furnish a return in time or inform chargeability to tax, may be prosecuted. A fine of HKD10,000 and a further fine of treble the amount of the tax undercharged may be imposed as penalties. The court may also order the person convicted to furnish the return within a specified time if they have not done so. However, offences which do not involve any wilful intent to evade tax are generally dealt with administratively by the imposition of additional tax not exceeding treble the undercharged amount.
There is no specific obligation to prevent tax evasion (although tax evasion itself is an offence) but there are statutory obligations to keep certain records. Depending on the type of records, a person who fails to comply with the record-keeping requirements may be subject to be a fine ranging from HKD10,000 to HKD100,000, and/or even an imprisonment of three years if an intent to defraud is found.
Financial record-keeping obligations are detailed in the following main statutory provisions depending on the type of person or entity.
Inland Revenue Ordinance (Chapter 112)
Section 51C of the IRO requires every person carrying on a trade, profession or business in Hong Kong to keep sufficient records in the English or Chinese language of their income and expenditure to enable the assessable profits to be readily ascertained.
The penalty for failure to do so, without reasonable excuse, is a fine of HKD100,000, according to Section 80(1A) of the IRO. The court may also order the person convicted to do the act which they have failed to do within a time specified.
Companies Ordinance (Chapter 622)
Sections 373 and 377 of the Companies Ordinance require every company to keep accounting records for seven years after the end of the financial year. Division 3 of the Companies Ordinance further stipulates the manner in which company records should be kept.
If a director fails to take reasonable steps to ensure that proper books of accounts are kept, the director is liable to a fine of HKD300,000 or, if done wilfully, HKD300,000 and 12 months' imprisonment (Section 377(3) and (4) of the Companies Ordinance).
There is a defence under Section 377(5) of Companies Ordinance if the person can establish that they had reasonable grounds to believe, and did believe, that a competent and reliable person was charged with the duty of ensuring the record-keeping requirements was complied with and was in a position to discharge that duty.
Securities and Futures Ordinance (Chapter 571)
The SFO governs the record-keeping obligations for different financial intermediaries and associated entities. In addition, the Securities and Futures (Keeping of Record) Rules (Chapter 571O) ("SFO Record Keeping Rules") stipulates general record-keeping requirements for intermediaries and other specific requirements for different intermediaries. The SFC also issues circulars in relation to keeping records.
An intermediary or associated entity which, without reasonable excuse, contravenes the SFO Record Keeping Rules commits an offence and is liable to a fine. If an intent to defraud is proven, a much higher fine and imprisonment can be imposed.
Anti-Money Laundering and Counter-Terrorist Financing Ordinance (Chapter 615)
Section 20 of Schedule 2 of the Anti-Money Laundering Counter-Terrorist Financing Ordinance (AMLO) requires financial institutions to keep records of transactions and customer identities for a period of at least five years after the end of the transactions; Section 21 of Schedule 2 of the AMLO governs the manner in which records are to be kept.
The AMLO makes it a criminal offence if an authorised institution knowingly, or with the intent to defraud the HKMA, contravenes a specified provision of the AMLO. The sanctions are as follows.
The Competition Ordinance (Chapter 619) is the primary source of competition law in Hong Kong. It provides the following.
The Competition Tribunal is responsible for imposing sanctions (both financial and non-financial) relating to contraventions of the First Conduct Rule and Second Conduct Rule.
Potential sanctions include payment of pecuniary penalties, payment of the CC’s investigation costs and disqualification of directors for up to five years. The Competition Tribunal has held that, where the CC seeks a pecuniary penalty, the proceedings involve the determination of a criminal charge, and are subject to the criminal standard of proof – ie, beyond reasonable doubt, although in the recent proceedings that have been commenced in the Competition Tribunal, the CC contends that the applicable standard of proof is that of the civil standard - ie, on a balance of probabilities. There are no custodial sentences for breaching the First and Second Conduct Rules.
The Competition Ordinance also introduces four criminal offences concerning investigations by the CC. Specifically, these relate to:
A person committing these offences is liable to a fine and imprisonment (both on conviction on indictment and on summary conviction).
There are two main categories of criminal conduct with respect to the sale/purchase of goods and services: (i) engaging in unfair trade practices; and (ii) selling faulty or dangerous goods.
The Trade Descriptions Ordinance (Chapter 362)
The Trade Descriptions Ordinance, primarily enforced by the Hong Kong Customs and Excise Department, prohibits common unfair trade practices deployed against consumers (Sections 7, 7A, 13E-13I), including:
The maximum penalty upon conviction of the above offences is a fine of HKD500,000 and imprisonment for five years.
There is various legislation in Hong Kong governing the sale of faulty or dangerous goods. For example, under Section 22 of the Consumer Goods Safety Ordinance (Chapter 456), it is a criminal offence to supply, manufacture or import consumer goods into Hong Kong unless the goods comply with the general safety requirements for consumer goods (or, if applicable, the approved standard for the particular goods). The maximum penalty upon conviction is a fine of HKD100,000 and imprisonment for one year on first conviction, and HKD500,000 and imprisonment for two years on subsequent convictions.
The main offences in the context of cybercrimes, computer fraud and breach of company secrets include the following.
Dealing with Proceeds of Crime (Section 25, OSCO)
This arises where a person who deals with property which they know or have reasonable grounds to believe represents a person’s proceeds from an indictable offence. Those who do so may face prosecution under Section 25. The maximum penalty is a HKD5 million fine and 14 years’ imprisonment.
Those who receive the tainted funds may also face civil claims from victims of fraud seeking to recover their funds.
Access to Computer with Criminal or Dishonest Intent (Section 161, CO)
This arises where a person obtains access to a computer with the intent to commit an offence, with a dishonest intent to deceive, with a view to dishonest gain or with a dishonest intent to cause loss to another. The maximum penalty is five years’ imprisonment.
Procuring Entry in Certain Records by Deception (Section 18D, TO)
This arises where a person dishonestly, with a view to gain for themselves (or someone else) and with the intent to cause loss to another, by deception procures the making, omission, altering, abstracting, concealing or destruction of the record of a bank, deposit-taking company, etc. The maximum penalty is ten years’ imprisonment.
Fraud (Section 16A, TO)
This arises where a person by deceit, and with intent to defraud, induces another person to do an act (or not do an act) which benefits or prejudices another person. The maximum penalty is 14 years’ imprisonment.
Theft (Sections 2 and 9, TO)
This arises where a person dishonestly appropriates property belonging to another with the intent to permanently deprive them of it. The maximum penalty is ten years’ imprisonment.
Obtaining Property, Pecuniary Advantage or Services by Deception (Sections 17, 18 and 18A, TO)
This arises where a person, by deception, dishonestly obtains for themselves (or another) any property, pecuniary advantage or services. The maximum penalty is ten years’ imprisonment.
The United Nations Sanctions Ordinance (Chapter 537) (UNSO) and its subsidiary regulations allow the Hong Kong government to give effect to measures adopted by the United Nations Security Council, including through the imposition of economic and trade sanctions. The UNSO only targets sanctioned targets that are outside of the PRC.
Under the UNSO regulations, it is an offence to engage in prohibited financial transactions, or to make funds, other financial assets, or economic resources available to, or for the benefit of, sanctioned persons or entities. A person who contravenes the UNSO regulations may be subject to an unlimited fine and to imprisonment for up to seven years upon conviction on indictment.
Under Article 29(4) of the NSL, a person who receives instructions, control, funding or other kinds of support from a foreign country to impose sanctions against Hong Kong or the PRC is liable to a fixed-term imprisonment of three to ten years, while a person who commits an offence of a grave nature will be subject to life imprisonment or a fixed-term imprisonment of not less than ten years.
Although Hong Kong is not obliged to comply with or implement the requirements of other international sanctions programmes (such as US and EU sanctions), recent developments (eg, the US Hong Kong Autonomy Act 2020, the US Executive Order on Hong Kong Normalization, and the ongoing conflict in Ukraine) will affect the compliance obligations of multinationals and businesses with cross-border operations.
The principal legislation on terrorist financing is the United Nations (Anti-Terrorism Measures) Ordinance (Chapter 575) (UNATMO).
The UNATMO prohibits the provision or collection of property and making property or financial (or related) services available to terrorists or terrorist associates. The maximum penalty is a fine and 14 years' imprisonment.
Imports and exports of certain articles are subject to licensing control by:
The penalties under these legislations or their respective regulations vary, depending on the contraventions.
A person who imports or exports an article specified in certain Schedules to the Import and Export (Strategic Commodities) Regulations (Chapter 60G) without a valid import or export licence is subject to a maximum penalty of an unlimited fine and seven years' imprisonment on conviction on indictment. The Customs and Excise Department also has power to seize or forfeit articles under the IEO and DCO.
In Hong Kong, it is a criminal offence to both (i) conceal a crime, and (ii) conceal the proceeds of a crime.
Under Section 91 of the Criminal Procedure Ordinance (CPO), where a person knew or believes that (i) an arrestable offence has been committed by another person and (ii) has information which might be of material assistance in securing prosecution or conviction, and accepts or agrees to accept consideration from that person for not disclosing that information, then they are liable to a maximum of two years’ imprisonment upon conviction. Concealing an offence or concealing evidence of the commission of the offence may also constitute the common law offence of perverting the course of justice. This is a separate criminal offence to the predicate offence.
Under Section 25 of the OSCO, it is an offence to deal with property when knowing or having reasonable grounds to believe that that property in whole or in part directly or indirectly represents the proceeds of an indictable offence. This is a separate criminal offence to the predicate offence. Please refer to 3.13 Money Laundering for additional information.
In Hong Kong, it is a criminal offence to both (i) conspire with another to commit a criminal offence, and (ii) assist another to commit a criminal offence.
Please refer to 1.1 Classification of Criminal Offences for information about the criminal offences of conspiracy and attempt.
Under Section 89 of the CPO, any person who aids, abets, counsels or procures the commission by another person of any offence shall be guilty of the like offence and subject to the same penalty as the principal offender.
Please refer to 1.4 Corporate Liability and Personal Liability for information about director liability for offences committed by a company.
Money Laundering Offences
The main legislation in Hong Kong regarding money laundering are the OSCO and the Drug Trafficking (Recovery of Proceeds) Ordinance (Chapter 405) (DTROPO). A person commits an offence if they deal with any property knowing or having reasonable grounds to believe that such property in whole or in part directly or indirectly represents proceeds of or was used or is intended to be used in connection with drug trafficking or any other indictable offence.
There is no need for intent to be established. The maximum penalty is a HKD5 million fine and 14 years of imprisonment.
Under the OSCO, DTROPO and UNATMO, a person who knows or suspects that any property is suspicious or terrorist property must inform an authorised officer such as the JFIU, via a Suspicious Transaction Report (STR), as soon as practicable. A person who fails to disclose such information commits an offence and is liable to a fine of HKD50,000 and to imprisonment for three months.
It is an offence for a person under the OSCO, DTROPO and UNATMO, who knows or suspects an STR has been made, to disclose any matter which is likely to prejudice an investigation which might be conducted following such a report. A person who commits such a tipping-off offence may be subject to a fine and to imprisonment for three years.
Under the OSCO, DTROPO and UNATMO, disclosure of the suspicion that the property represents proceeds of crime will act as a defence (Section 25A(2) OSCO, Section 25A(2) DTROPO, Section 12(2) UNATMO).
Due Diligence Obligations
In addition, it is an offence for a financial institution to, knowingly or with intent to defraud, contravene "specified provisions" set out in Schedule 2 of AMLO – ie, the requirements regarding customer due diligence and record keeping.
An employee who, knowingly or with intent to defraud, causes or permits the financial institution to contravene "specified provisions" also commits an offence. The offender is punishable by a fine of HKD1 million and a two-year imprisonment if they knowingly commit the offence, or by a fine of HKD1 million and a seven-year imprisonment if they had an intent to defraud. Please also refer to 3.6 Financial Record-Keeping for further details.
The SFC and HKMA publish guidelines on anti-money laundering and counter-terrorist financing which set out the expected compliance standard for financial institutions. While the guidelines are not legally binding, failure to comply with the guidelines may be taken into account in any proceedings under the AMLO. Such failure may also result in disciplinary or other actions under the SFO or the BO.
The HK Police and the Hong Kong Customs and Excise Department are the primary authorities carrying out investigations of money laundering activities. Where the money laundering offences are facilitated by bribery or corruption, the ICAC also has the authority to investigate.
The JFIU is operated jointly by the HK Police and the Customs and Excise Department. Its main role is to manage, analyse and allocate to appropriate authorities the STRs for further investigation. The JFIU also liaises with financial institutions to obtain intelligence in relation to fund flow.
The SFC and HKMA also have the authority to investigate whether breaches of the AMLO have taken place.
Where defences arise in relation to specific offences, they have been set out in Section 3. White-Collar Offences.
Most crimes in Hong Kong require the prosecution to prove both a guilty act and a guilty mind. However, as explained at 1.1 Classification of Criminal Offences, there are certain exceptions that do not require proving a guilty mind (ie, strict liability offences). The mere fact that a certain prohibited act was committed (irrespective of what the alleged offender had in mind at the time) would likely lead to a conviction.
In most cases (other than strict liability offences), it would be a defence if the accused can show that they did not have a guilty mind (or ill motive) while doing the act at issue. The existence of an effective compliance programme is not a defence to the offences noted in Section 3. White-Collar Offences, but may assist to avoid corporate liability.
Any exceptions in relation to the specific offences are set out in Section 3. White-Collar Offences.
No industries or sectors are exempt from white-collar criminal liability, and no de minimis exceptions exist under the relevant statutes. However, Hong Kong prosecutors and regulators retain a discretion to prosecute, and may decline to do so where the amount at issue is negligible. Mitigating factors also play a role in sentencing.
Hong Kong does not have any formal programmes for claiming leniency or reduced penalties. Rather, the authorities will decide on issues such as leniency and/or immunity based on the facts of each case.
Whether the authorities will grant immunity will depend on a number of factors, including the importance of the witness' evidence, the culpability and credibility of the witness and the accused, as well as the interests of justice. Immunity will not be granted lightly.
As for leniency, the authorities will consider matters such as self-reporting and co-operation with the authorities in the matter. The SFC and the HKMA have recently emphasised that they will recognise and give credit for co-operation during an enforcement investigation in determining the applicable sanction.
There is no legislation offering comprehensive protection to whistle-blowers in Hong Kong.
That said, there are a number of protections found in various ordinances, including the following.
There are also a number of guidelines recommending whistle-blower protections, including the following.
There is no statutory regime that provides incentives for whistle-blowers to report white-collar offences.
Under the Hong Kong Basic Law, anyone who is lawfully arrested has a right to a fair trial by the courts without delay. They are presumed innocent until convicted by the courts.
The burden of proof for criminal offences rests with the prosecution. The prosecution must prove a criminal offence beyond a reasonable doubt.
The court will determine the sentence when a defendant is convicted of a white-collar offence by a criminal court. There is no prescriptive method for calculating the sentence, but the general approach is as follows.
The court will first establish the starting point for the sentence by:
Once the court has established the starting point, it will consider:
The court will then apply any deductions to the starting point to compute the resulting sentence.
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