Hong Kong Chief Executive John Lee (李家超) yesterday said that he would only implement UN sanctions, after the US warned the territory’s status as a financial center could be affected if it acts as a safe haven for sanctioned people.
Lee’s statement came days after a luxury yacht connected to Russian tycoon Alexey Mordashov docked in the territory.
Mordashov, who is believed to have close ties to Russian President Vladimir Putin, was sanctioned by the EU, the UK and the US in February after Russia’s invasion of Ukraine. Hong Kong authorities have said that they do not implement unilateral sanctions imposed by other governments.
“We cannot do anything that has no legal basis,” Lee told reporters. “We will comply with United Nations sanctions. That is our system, that is our rule of law.”
A US Department of State spokesperson in a statement on Monday said that “the possible use of Hong Kong as a safe haven by individuals evading sanctions from multiple jurisdictions further calls into question the transparency of the business environment.”
The spokesperson also said that Hong Kong’s reputation as a financial center “depends on its adherence to international laws and standards,” and that US companies “increasingly view Hong Kong’s business environment with wariness” due to an erosion of the territory’s autonomy and its freedoms.
The US$500 million yacht Nord, allegedly owned by Mordashov, moored in a Hong Kong harbor on Wednesday last week, following a week-long journey from the Russian city of Vladivostok.
Mordashov is one of Russia’s richest men, with an estimated wealth of about US$18 billion. He is also the main shareholder and chairman of Severstal, Russia’s largest steel and mining company.
US and European authorities have seized more than a dozen yachts belonging to sanctioned Russian tycoons to prevent them from sailing to other ports that are not affected by the sanctions. Russian oligarchs have begun docking their yachts at ports in places such as Turkey, which has maintained diplomatic ties with Russia.
The Nord has two helipads, a swimming pool and 20 cabins. It is operating under a Russian flag.
Following passage of Hong Kong’s National Security Law in 2020, the US sanctioned Lee, then-Hong Kong chief executive Carrie Lam (林鄭月娥) and other Hong Kong and Chinese government officials, for “undermining Hong Kong’s autonomy and restricting the freedom of expression or assembly.”
Lee blasted the ban on personal and official travel to the US, and access to the US financial system.
He was responding to a question about whether he is paid in cash, as was the case for Lam, who was also placed under US sanctions that limit the ability of those designated for such penalties to transfer funds across national boundaries or convert them into different currencies.
“The second thing about the so-called sanction imposed on people in Hong Kong without justification, it is a very barbaric act, and I’m not going to comment on the effect of such barbaric act, because officials in Hong Kong do what is right to protect the interests of the country, and the interests of Hong Kong, so we will just laugh off the so-called sanctions,” Lee said.
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