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Next Digital is now subject to a High Court winding up order. Photo: Dickson Lee

Hong Kong court orders winding up of Jimmy Lai’s Next Digital media group, parent company of Apple Daily

  • High Court makes order after government petitioned to close the 40-year-old company on public interest grounds
  • No objection to the order from Next Digital, parent company of the now-defunct Apple Daily newspaper
Next Digital
A Hong Kong court has ordered the winding up of Next Digital, a media group founded by jailed tycoon Jimmy Lai Chee-ying, following a government petition.

Master Jack Wong Kin-tong of the High Court made the order on Wednesday against the parent company of the now-defunct Apple Daily newspaper, with Kenny Tam King-ching and Man King-shing of Kenny Tam & Co staying on as provisional liquidators.

Financial Secretary Paul Chan Mo-po had petitioned to bring the 40-year-old firm to an end on the grounds of public interest in September and secured the appointment of two provisional liquidators to safeguard company assets the following month.

Hong Kong tycoon Jimmy Lai, 7 others jailed over banned Tiananmen vigil

But the appointed liquidators, Sammy Koo Chi-sum and Clifford Tsui Chi-chiu of Ernst & Young Transactions, subsequently resigned, prompting the new appointments of Tam and Man last month.

During the brief hearing, senior government counsel Aaron Lam Cheuk-lun said a Registrar’s certificate was obtained earlier this week and all the paperwork was in order. “We respectfully ask for the winding-up order to be granted,” Lam said.

The company did not send any representatives to the hearing and there was no objection to the order.

Lai had previously revealed his wishes to wind up the company, in an application to the High Court for a licence to exercise his voting rights. But that application was eventually put on hold by a court ruling on September 17.

Apple Daily founder Jimmy Lai, pictured in December last year before one of his trials. Photo: Winson Wong

Next Digital has been a key target of Hong Kong authorities in the wake of the adoption in June last year of the Beijing-decreed national security law, which bans acts of subversion, secession, terrorism and collusion with foreign forces.

Police arrested Lai a month after the law kicked in and raided the company’s offices in Tseung Kwan O. Eight senior editors and executives of the tabloid-style Apple Daily newspaper have since been arrested. All directors have resigned.

Authorities have also frozen HK$18 million of Next Digital’s assets.

Known for its support of the 2019 anti-government protests and its backing of the opposition camp in Hong Kong, Apple Daily published its final edition on June 24, about a week after trading in the shares of Next Digital was suspended on the Hong Kong stock exchange on June 17.

Hong Kong Apple Daily’s online sister to live on in Taiwan

Taiwan’s Mainland Affairs Council said on Wednesday that authorities would take necessary actions to prevent personal data of its residents from being handed over to a Hong Kong court-appointed provisional liquidator for Next Digital.

“The government [in Taiwan] is closely following the development of the Next Digital liquidation case and to prevent the leak of any personal data and privacy of our people, relevant authorities would take necessary legal actions to stop related agencies from trying to put their thumbs on the scales of justice as well as freedom and human rights in Taiwan,” the council, which charts cross-strait and Hong Kong policies, said.

The council added that the self-ruled island’s constitution protected personal freedom, freedom of speech, and personal privacy. “Handling and use of such data acquired by new media outlets must strictly follow the law here to prevent them from being leaked or used illegally by others,” the council said, warning that if media outlets no longer needed to use the data, the information should be deleted.

The council’s statement came after local media reported that the court-appointed provisional liquidator for Next Digital had approached Apple Daily’s Taiwanese unit to ask about its assets, including personal data of Taiwanese officials and private sector members.

Local human rights groups said if Hong Kong authorities obtained the data, it would result in the arrests or even jailing of Taiwanese people if they were deemed by the city to have violated the national security law.

Next Digital’s Apple Online in Taiwan did not respond to requests for comment.