A top aide to Next Media founder Jimmy Lai Chee-ying yesterday denied he approached Labour Party lawmakers in an attempt to lobby them to speak in a Legislative Council debate on press freedom in January.
The aide, Mark Simon, was speaking after Reuters reported that a copy of a search warrant used in a raid by graft-busters on his and Lai's homes on Thursday indicated they were looking for connections between payments or donations and the debate.
Labour Party chairman Lee Cheuk-yan has admitted receiving HK$1.5 million from the media tycoon.
In a written reply to the South China Morning Post yesterday, Simon declined to confirm the content of the search warrants.
But he said neither he nor, to the best of his knowledge, Lai, had asked the Labour Party's lawmakers to speak on press freedom in the January debate.
"No, please use the word 'No', so no misunderstanding," Simon wrote. Simon also declined to comment when asked whether he would seek a court injunction to challenge the validity of the ICAC search or to restrict the officers from gaining access to materials unrelated to the probe.
Speaking on a radio programme yesterday, Lee also denied he had received any instructions from Lai ahead of the January debate in the Legislative Council.
Minutes of the meeting show that Lee mentioned reports that Standard Chartered pulled ads from newspapers under pressure from Chief Executive Leung Chun-ying, but did not mention Lai's Apple Daily by name.
The media spotlight fell on Lai - a Beijing critic and key donor to the pan-democratic camp - in July when leaked records revealed he had made donations of millions of dollars to pan-democrats. Five pan-democratic lawmakers came under fire for allegedly failing to declare the donations to the legislature.
The timing of Thursday's raids was controversial as they were made as Beijing prepared to set out a tougher-than-expected framework on Sunday for the city's first chief executive election under universal suffrage in 2017.
Secretary for Security Lai Tung-kwok said yesterday the impartiality of the law enforcement agency would not be affected by any factor.
Former Independent Commission Against Corruption chief investigator Stephen Char Shik-ngor said graft-busters could seek a search warrant if they suspected a link between donations and Lee's speech, even though this would be difficult to prove.
Earlier, Jimmy Lai hit out at what he said was "state-level" hacking of his records that included gaining access to his photocopier, which was linked to the internet to back up the documents. Simon said he and Lai would "of course" take measures to enhance their computers' security, but declined to elaborate.