National security law: Hong Kong media mogul Jimmy Lai charged with foreign collusion
- Apple Daily boss is accused of collusion with foreign forces to endanger national security
- The offence carries a maximum penalty of life imprisonment
The Post has learned that the charge stems from comments Lai purportedly made on Twitter and in interviews asking foreign countries to sanction the city before and after his arrest in August.
A police source said the force had sought legal advice from the Department of Justice before deciding to charge Lai under the legislation.
In that case, Lai and two Next Digital executives – chief operating officer and chief financial officer Royston Chow Tat-kuen, as well as chief administrative officer Wong Wai-keung – stand accused of breaching land lease terms by improperly using the company’s office space in Tseung Kwan O.
Chief Magistrate Victor So Wai-tak, one of six magistrates hand-picked by Hong Kong leader Carrie Lam Cheng Yuet-ngor to adjudicate national security proceedings, denied Lai bail after deciding he was a flight risk. Chow and Wong, however, were allowed to await trial out of custody.
Lai was first arrested on suspicion of conspiracy to defraud and collusion with foreign forces in August, in what is still the most high-profile police operation under the national security law since it was imposed on the city by Beijing at the end of June. At the time, Chow and Lai’s younger son, Ian Lai Yiu-yan, were also arrested for alleged collusion.
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Lai had been out on bail before being charged with fraud last week. Prosecutors at the time said they needed more time to prepare the national security charges.
Hong Kong Watch, a London-based group, urged Britain to consider taking proportionate steps – including sanctions – in response to latest charges brought against Lai.
Separately, Britain raised deep concerns over the charges laid on Lai, who has British citizenship.
“We have raised this case with the authorities and will continue to lobby them at senior levels to end their targeting of pro-democracy voices,” a spokesman for Prime Minister Boris Johnson said.
Gunnar Wiegan, the top Asia official at the European Union’s foreign policy arm, also weighed in, saying the charges against Lai were “another concerning development for Hong-Kong’s civil society and pro-democracy voices”.
The latest development came just days before Lai was expected to apply for bail in the High Court next Tuesday.
Lai is the fourth person so far to be charged under the national security legislation, which outlaws acts of secession, subversion, terrorism and collusion with foreign forces. All three of the previous defendants charged under the law have been denied bail.
Tong Ying-kit, 23, the first to be charged, was accused of inciting secession and engaging in terrorism after he allegedly rode his motorcycle into a group of police officers during a July 1 protest while carrying a flag bearing the popular protest slogan “Liberate Hong Kong; revolution of our times”.
Tony Chung Hon-lam, a 19-year-old activist who formerly convened the pro-independence group Studentlocalism, was the next to be charged, also with secession.
Last month, prosecutors made their third case under the new law, charging 30-year-old Adam Ma Chun-man with incitement to commit secession for chanting pro-independence slogans in public.
In an announcement on the Hong Kong stock exchange, Next Digital reassured investors that Lai’s absence from the office would not disrupt the daily operations of the company.
“The board does not expect any immediate material adverse impact on the group’s daily operations,” it said.
Next Digital’s shares rose by 9.8 per cent to HK$0.28 on Friday.