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
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.