ICAC raids media tycoon Jimmy Lai's home over donations to pan-democrats
Home of lawmaker Lee Cheuk-yan also searched over an alleged link between media tycoon's gifts and Legco speech on press freedoms
Clifford Lo and Shirley Zhao
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Anti-graft officers yesterday raided the home of Jimmy Lai Chee-ying, the Next Media chief, Beijing critic and key donor to the pan-democratic camp.
The Independent Commission Against Corruption also searched the homes of Lai's assistant Mark Simon, who helped Lai supply money to lawmakers, and Labour Party legislator Lee Cheuk-yan, who admitted receiving HK$1.5 million from him.
Watch: Anti-corruption officers swooped on the Kowloon home of media mogul Jimmy Lai
Lai met the management of Next Media after the raid and said he had been prepared for it, according to a post on the Apple Daily website last night. "There's a price to pay for taking a stand," Lai said.
Lee said officers took bank documents from his office in the Legislative Council complex.
Simon said five ICAC officers searched his home.
"The timing is not coincidental, in our opinion," he said. "If you wanted to cool things down, this is the last thing you would do."
On Wednesday, a draft framework for political reform in Hong Kong released in Beijing set tight restrictions on the 2017 chief executive election, dashing the hopes of pan-democrats.
An ICAC spokesman said it began its investigation after receiving corruption complaints accusing certain lawmakers of accepting advantages in breach of the Prevention of Bribery Ordinance. He said the agency acted impartially and without any political consideration.
The spotlight fell on Lai in July when leaked records revealed he had made donations of millions of dollars to pan-democrats.
Five pan-democratic lawmakers - including Lee - were caught in a political storm for allegedly failing to declare the donations to the legislature.
Lee said the watchdog made it clear it needed to investigate the relationship between Lai's donations to the party and a debate in Legco about editorial independence on January 21.
A copy of one of the search warrants seen by Reuters news agency also showed that the ICAC was looking for connections between payments or donations and the Legco debate.
In a Legco speech, Lee mentioned reports that Standard Chartered Bank had pulled ads from local newspapers under pressure from Chief Executive Leung Chun-ying. Lee did not mention Lai's Apple Daily by name in the speech, according to minutes of the meeting.
The pro-democracy website House News - which closed last month citing political pressure and low ad revenue - reported in January that Leung and his allies had been pressing banks, including Standard Chartered, to pull ads from Apple Daily.
Former ICAC chief investigator Stephen Char Shik-ngor, now a barrister, doubted if a "valid or logical" case could be made over any link to Lee's speech.
"Press freedom is the core value of society - even Beijing-loyalists should defend it," he said.