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Press freedom in Hong Kong

I’m a target for refusing to submit to a ‘certain power’, Sing Pao newspaper chief insists amid reports mainland police are preparing a global manhunt

Gu Zhuoheng claims he is victim of political revenge attacks for defying an unnamed power

PUBLISHED : Wednesday, 31 August, 2016, 11:39pm
UPDATED : Wednesday, 26 October, 2016, 2:38pm

In another twist to Wednesday night’s reports that the chief of Hong Kong-based newspaper Sing Pao Daily News might be the target of a global manhunt initiated by mainland Chinese police, the media boss issued an angry statement claiming he was under political revenge attack for refusing to submit to a “certain power”.

Gu Zhuoheng, 44, chairman of Sing Pao Media Enterprises, was a wanted fugitive, the semi official Hong Kong China News Agency reported, citing Shenzhen police confirmation.

Hong Kong’s leftist Wen Wei Po newspaper cited the same report, and a reported link to a case of alleged illegal deposit-taking involving some 130 million yuan (HK$151 million).

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Shenzhen police were quoted as saying Gu had fled overseas, while Hong Kong’s Wen Wei Po newspaper reported the Department of Public ­Security would be asked for permission to launch a worldwide manhunt.

The case was first reported in April last year by the Southern Metropolis Daily.

In a statement issued early Thursday morning, Gu said he was extremely disappointed that Wen Wei Po had recalled a “false” and “libellous” report on alleged illegal deposit-taking by the Southern Metropolis Daily involving the Shenzhen-based finance platform, of which he was neither an executive nor a shareholder.

He went on to claim that he had been under revenge-driven political attack since last year because he would not submit to a “certain power”. He did not identify the power.

The drama follows a recent attack by the usually pro-establishment Sing Pao against Chief Executive Leung Chun-ying. Wen Wei Po suggested Gu could have run afoul of mainland authorities over that.

The newspaper, known for its conservative editorial policy, raised eyebrows on Tuesday with a full-page commentary accusing Leung of indirectly ­encouraging Hong Kong independence talk.

Leung had made a series of high-profile attacks against independence advocates, prompting his critics to charge that he had provoked more intense debate.

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The chief executive countered that there had been pro-­independence talk in books and among young people before he raised it in his 2015 policy address

Sing Pao had also accused the city’s leader of allowing Beijing’s Liaison Office to interfere in ­domestic affairs, alleging the ­office might not be representative of the central government view.

“The commentary on Sing Pao’s front page on August 30 has resonated profoundly with the Hong Kong public,” Gu said in his statement.

“Surprisingly, a series of organised and planned malicious attacks on myself and Sing Pao came a day after the report, discouraging staff and damaging their reputation. I was deeply shocked.”

He warned staff to watch out for their personal safety, and also declared that he had been going in and out of Hong Kong and the mainland freely.

The war of words between Sing Pao and other leftist papers took another twist on Thursday, with Ta Kung Pao accusing Sing Pao’s chief of having a murky background.

In a full page report, Ta Kung Pao said Gu had multiple identity documents in his possession when he was detained at Shenzhen’s airport two years ago on suspicion of illegal deposit-taking.

Among the identity documents, Gu had at least three military officer ID cards and two ID cards, the report claimed.

The report said that the two ID cards had different names, dates of birth and addresses on them.

Meanwhile, the leftist paper also quoted former chief of Sing Pao, Leung Lap-yan, criticising the paper’s management of “having lost their minds”.

Leung said as a pro-establishment paper, Sing Pao should not abandon its editorial style no matter how difficult the business environment is.

Mainland businessman Gu Zhuoheng, the media group’s executive director and chairman since October 2014, has investments in mining, fund management and property in the mainland and Hong Kong.

Gu graduated from the Distance Learning College of the Party School, under the Communist Party’s Central Committee, where he majored in legal studies, according to information disclosed through the stock exchange.

In a statement issued through Sing Pao last year responding to the Southern Metropolis Daily report, Gu called the article “speculative” and denied the “false and unreasonable” claims.

He also said he had “no relationship” with the operation of the Shenzhen online financing platform in question, cnmeidai.com.

The website could not be accessed on Thursday but on its official Weibo microblog account, the company describes itself as “China’s first online investment and financing platform, providing services from P2P lending to financing for small and medium sized businesses”.

According to mainland media reports, the Shenzhen-based P2P lending platform got into trouble last year when two senior officials went missing with hundreds of millions worth of funds. Subsequently, the pair were reportedly arrested and were sentenced to jail in May in the special economic zone’s court for illegally taking deposits from the general public.