Police foil plot to kill Martin Lee

PUBLISHED : Saturday, 30 May, 2009, 12:00am
UPDATED : Saturday, 30 May, 2009, 12:00am

Former Democratic Party chairman Martin Lee Chu-ming was the target of an assassination plot at the height of the Legislative Council election campaign last year, the South China Morning Post has learned.

The plot was foiled when police arrested an alleged mainland hitman and a local accomplice on August 14 and seized a pistol and ammunition that had been smuggled across the border. It is understood the pair are in custody pending further police action.

The Post has obtained information indicating the hitman allegedly conspired with a number of people, as yet unknown, in the plot against the Democratic Party founder.

In an exclusive interview this week, Mr Lee confirmed police had informed him of the plot following the arrests and urged him to stay out of the public spotlight.

'The police warned me to be careful, and asked me in great detail whether I had anyone in mind who might want me dead. Obviously I co-operated fully with the police,' Mr Lee said.

'When I was told about it, I felt quite surprised because I have never feared this sort of thing. It was not the first time, and I have never feared death. It would be an honour to shed blood for democracy.

'I am a Catholic and rather than worrying about how to die, I would prepare my soul to enter heaven.'

Mr Lee retired in July from the legislature, to which he was first elected in 1985. He was campaigning for Democratic Party colleagues contesting the September 7 election when the plot was uncovered.

Mr Lee said that, unlike the situation after the 1989 Tiananmen Square crackdown - when he was given police protection because the colonial government believed he was a target for assassination - police this time urged him to keep a low profile and tell them where he planned to go. But he said his campaign commitments made it impossible to keep out of the spotlight.

'It was really troublesome because I had to call the police every time before I went out,' Mr Lee said. The need to report to police on his whereabouts was scaled down after the election.

Mr Lee praised the police handling of the incident. 'The police's swift action was quite reassuring. Catching these hitmen will make the mastermind realise that if another attempt is made to kill me, all evidence would point to the same source.'

While he was given details of the plot only 'on a need-to-know basis' and was not informed of the progress of the investigation or whether police had any particular theories in mind, Mr Lee said he had discussed several possibilities with them.

He had also discussed the assassination bid with one party colleague, whom he did not name.

Mr Lee does not believe the Communist Party was involved in the plot.

'They are more keen to use character assassination,' he said.

The last thing Beijing would have wanted, Mr Lee said, was to see him assassinated just after the Olympics and before the 20th anniversary of the June 4 crackdown on pro-democracy protesters 'because people would definitely blame the communists' for his death.

'If I really had been killed, it would have been a worse nightmare for the Communist Party and certainly it wouldn't have known how to handle it. Perhaps it would have mobilised the People's Liberation Army and all the triads to catch the killer so that it could clear its own name.'

He did not wish to speculate on the other possibilities.

Several pan-democrats, including Szeto Wah, Emily Lau Wai-hing and Alan Leong Kah-kit, have received death threats. In 2006 Democratic Party chairman Albert Ho Chun-yan was attacked in a restaurant by a gang wielding baseball bats.

Still, despite an increase in violence against politicians, Mr Lee said Hong Kong remained a relatively safe city with a peaceful political culture.