Lai hits back over donations furore
Greg Torode and Dennis Chong
Media tycoon Jimmy Lai Chee-ying has defended multimillion-dollar donations to Hong Kong's pan-democrat community and Catholic Cardinal Joseph Zen Ze-kiun after details of his charitable giving were leaked this week.
A spokesman for Lai's private office said the tycoon's private donations to political groups were entirely legal, and 'consistent with Mr Lai's well-known support of an open and free Hong Kong society'.
While his office would not comment on specific donations, documents have surfaced on the file-sharing search engine Foxy which show that the billionaire Next Media mogul spent more than HK$60 million from 2005.
Zen was the biggest recipient, receiving more than HK$20 million. It was also stated that the Democratic Party received HK$13,690,000 from 2006 to last year and the Civic Party was given HK$14,566,500 for the same period. The radical League of Social Democrats was awarded HK$1 million last year, while former chief secretary Anson Chan Fang On-sang received HK$1.3 million from 2007 to 2009.
A purported cash-flow forecast, printed on another leaked document, also showed the Civic Party would be given another HK$2 million from July to September this year, while the Democratic Party would receive HK$3 million. Past donations made amount to more than HK$60 million, the documents state.
Other officials close to Lai said they believed private commercial records had been circulated for political motives. They claim the resultant media frenzy serves as a diversion from more worrying issues for Hong Kong's political establishment.
In the longer term, the revelations could be used to smear Zen and his allies across the democratic camp - even though all parties and churches in Hong Kong are free to accept local donations without making them public, they said.
A senior cleric with the Hong Kong Catholic Diocese, Vicar General Father Dominic Chan Chi-ming, said that Zen could receive donations and spend them at his own discretion.
'This is his private matter. We cannot investigate,' he said.
It is understood Zen has spent donations on supporting official and underground religious workers on the mainland, as well as on religious and charity programmes in Hong Kong.
He has helped various projects on the mainland, including infrastructure construction in underprivileged areas. Sponsorships have also been provided for followers who embark on spiritual trips to Rome.
Zen could not be reached for comment yesterday but his secretary, Teresa Fung, said the cardinal often directly supported followers financially.
For example, he has funded a charity programme in Hong Kong which sends mooncakes to prisoners and the elderly.
Anthony Lam, a senior researcher at the Holy Spirit Study Centre, a Hong Kong think tank funded by the church, said Zen would not be the only one who received funding from private donors. Top religious leaders such as cardinals and bishops often received donations from the wealthy, and distributed funding to religious workers in developing countries, such as the mainland, he said. 'I believe Cardinal Zen is helping everyone in China, both official and underground church members,' he said.
Zen has actively pushed for universal suffrage in Hong Kong over the past few years and has been seen as closely linked to the pan-democratic movement.
Democratic and Civic Party officials have refused to comment, seeking to protect the identity of their donors. The Civic Party said it did not accept funds that came with conditions.
The documents show a variety of other Lai donations, including sums given to the club and fashion impresario David Tang, conservative Washington think tank the American Enterprise Institute, and the World Wide Fund for Nature. The prominent US China scholar Perry Link was also on the list.
Additional reporting by Danny Mok, Tanna Chong and Peter So
Next Media's revenue, in Hong Kong dollars, for the fiscal year to March