By KELVIN CHAN
HONG KONG (AP) â¿¿ Hong Kong is proposing to restrict the amount of personal information available on company directors in the wake of investigative news reports that used the data to help expose fortunes linked to Chinese leaders.
Under the proposed changes, home addresses and ID card or passport numbers of directors would be obscured in filings starting from the first quarter of 2014. The details could also be removed from historical filings on request.
Currently, anyone can access these details online for a nominal fee. The new law would restrict access to certain groups including law enforcement, regulators and liquidators.
The proposals highlight fears that Hong Kong's position as a relatively transparent and open Asian business center is slipping. The city, a special administrative region of China, enjoys separate legal and financial systems and high degree of autonomy that are legacies of more than a century as a British colony. Detailed information on public and private companies and land transactions is widely available.
That's not the case in other Asian jurisdictions, especially in mainland China, where most company information is secret. Some details such as names of board members or senior executives are public. But other details, if available, can only be accessed by people such as lawyers who are authorized to see files at commercial bureaus. In Japan, personal information is protected by privacy policies and laws while in South Korea, publicly listed companies are required only to disclose basic information such as names, birthdates and work history of directors.
The provisions attracted little notice until this week, when they were outlined in a briefing paper submitted to the legislature's financial affairs panel. They have worried investors and the media as the changes could make it harder to document cases of corruption or malfeasance.
Hong Kong has become a popular place for mainland Chinese businesspeople and government officials looking to hide their wealth through shell companies.