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Justice Alex Lee was not satisfied that Jimmy Lai’s proposed trip to the US was ‘really necessary’. Photo: Sam Tsang

Travel ban on Hong Kong media mogul Jimmy Lai necessary amid risks of contracting coronavirus and escape, judge says

  • Lai wanted to go to the US to visit his daughter and for various business-related works
  • But Justice Alex Lee of the High Court said there were risks of contracting Covid-19 in the country as well as not returning to face his many trials
The travel ban on Hong Kong media mogul Jimmy Lai Chee-ying is necessary because there are risks he might contract the coronavirus during his proposed trip to the United States and that he might not return to face his many trials, according to the judge who refused to lift the bail condition.

In a judgment, Mr Justice Alex Lee Wan-tang of the High Court on Thursday explained why he had last Friday refused the application from the Apple Daily founder to be away from the city between June 24 and July 19, ahead of his trial in a case of criminal intimidation in August.

Lai, 72, had been required to stay in the city as part of his bail conditions, after he denied threatening to injure a man identified as X, with the intent to alarm him, at the annual June 4 vigil in Victoria Park, Causeway Bay, in 2017.

But his lawyers, led by Peter Duncan SC, argued that he should be allowed to travel, given that he was a man of clear record with strong family and business ties to the city as well as substantial business interests in Britain, Canada and Taiwan.

Media boss Jimmy Lai to be prosecuted on incitement charges over Victoria Park gathering

Lai had planned to visit his daughter and her newborn baby in New York City, discuss a possible hotel acquisition in Little Washington and meet his staff from Canada in Buffalo City. He was also intending to meet a service provider and some media representatives to promote the new English version of his newspaper in the capital.

Prosecutors led by Andrew Bruce SC opposed the trip, drawing the court’s attention to the Covid-19 situation in the US and the other charges against Lai. The allegations included organising and taking part in unauthorised assemblies during the anti-government protests last year and inciting others to take part in an unauthorised assembly on June 4 this year.

At issue was whether it was appropriate for the court to temporarily lift the travel ban imposed on a defendant who is presumed innocent, with a right to bail.

The judge, who lifted the reporting restrictions imposed on bail hearings, said such applications were about risk assessment, with one of the factors being the necessity of the trip.

Media tycoon Jimmy Lai not allowed to leave Hong Kong as part of his bail condition

But he was not satisfied that Lai’s proposed trip was “really necessary” because he felt there was no urgency for the businessman to see his family before August while the other matters could be handled by his subordinates or via the internet.

The judge, however, was concerned that Lai might unintentionally “fail to surrender to custody” and derail his trial if he contracted Covid-19 while travelling in the areas of the country worst hit by the deadly virus.

“This court is also entitled to take into account the fact that the applicant is now facing and is going to face a number of trials at different levels of court,” the judge wrote. “That tends to provide a stronger incentive than before for the applicant not to return, should he be permitted to leave Hong Kong.”

Lai is expected to return to court next week to face his new case on the June 4 vigil this year.