A Hong Kong resident wanted by the Indian government over his alleged involvement in a jailbreak three years ago is facing extradition to his native country.
Ramanjit Singh, also known as Romi, had contested the order of committal to custody by challenging the evidence against him and arguing his prosecution was merely a smokescreen for persecuting him as a young Sikh in support of a separatist movement.
But on Tuesday, Magistrate Pang Leung-ting of the Eastern Court ruled in favour of the Indian government and ordered Singh’s committal to await Hong Kong leader Carrie Lam Cheng Yuet-ngor’s decision on his surrender.
The 30-year-old can be removed from Hong Kong in 15 days at the earliest, counting from the date of court ruling.
But, his legal representatives told the Post Singh was prepared to exhaust all means to challenge his return to India, having also engaged a separate team of lawyers led by Hectar Pun Hei SC to lodge a non-refoulement claim with the Immigration Department in June, on the grounds he was allegedly tortured in his home country.
Pang said Singh could also apply for a writ of habeas corpus from the High Court and he would not be removed from the city so long as there are outstanding proceedings.
The Indian government had demanded Singh’s surrender over two criminal cases in 2016, which they say involved the equivalent of 28 serious offences in Hong Kong.
Singh was accused of stealing a car from his uncle, carrying a revolver without a licence and possessing fake car plates and fake debit and credit cards when he was arrested on June 4, 2016 in India.
He was also accused of playing an essential role in a jailbreak that freed six inmates from a maximum-security prison in Nabha on November 27, 2016 after he had jumped bail and fled to Hong Kong.
The accusations had prompted intense security measures, with a fleet of heavily armed police vehicles escorting Singh from jail every time he turned up in the dock.
On Tuesday, Singh returned to court in a black suit over a black T-shirt while sporting an undercut ponytail. He was seen rubbing his hands while his Punjabi interpreter translated Pang’s lengthy ruling of more than 300 paragraphs.
Restrictions on media reporting of the case have been lifted on Singh's request.
Speaking before a full house in court, Pang ruled that there was a prima facie case in 18 of the 28 notional Hong Kong offences Singh stands accused of, to justify the order of committal.
These charges relate to the possession of firearms and false instruments, assisting an offender, as well as conspiracy to pervert the course of public justice.
Those rejected by the court included five charges over the alleged car theft, where Pang found that Indian prosecutors had fundamentally failed to prove that the vehicle Singh was found travelling in was his uncle's stolen white Honda City.
“Despite the poor quality of evidence, the Indian government was convinced that an inference could be drawn,” Pang said. “With respect, I think the Indian government's approach is flawed.”
Pang also observed that three of the offences, relating to unlawful escape from lawful custody, were not relevant extraditable charges under Hong Kong's agreement with India.
One other charge did not fall under the authority to proceed previously signed by Lam before the case was brought to the court of committal.
The magistrate also dismissed Singh’s claim there was a hidden agenda to the Indian government’s request, which he had relied on to invoke protection from the Fugitive Offenders Ordinance.
Singh has been remanded in custody since February 2018, initially in connection with a theft involving more than 450 million yen (US$4.04 million).
Prosecutors dropped the case against him four months later, and in August 2018 failed to prove another one of handling HK$3 million worth of stolen goods in the city.
But Singh has remained behind bars since the Indian government served a provisional warrant for his arrest in June 2018, and made a formal request for his surrender in August.
This article Indian fugitive Romi can be extradited, Hong Kong court rules first appeared on South China Morning Post