In this file photograph taken on June 16, 2020, millionaire media tycoon Jimmy Lai, 72, poses throughout an interview with AFP on the Next Digital places of work in Hong Kong. Anthony WALLACE / AFP
Hong Kong media tycoon Jimmy Lai was remanded into custody on Thursday after being charged with fraud, the most recent in a string of prosecutions introduced towards high-profile Beijing critics and democracy campaigners.
Lai, 73, is the proprietor of Hong Kong’s best-selling Apple Daily, a well-liked tabloid that’s unashamedly pro-democracy and fiercely vital of authorities.
Lai and two of the agency’s executives — Royston Chow and Wong Wai-keung — face fraud expenses that courtroom paperwork say are associated to the paper’s places of work allegedly getting used for functions not permitted by the constructing’s lease.
Police raided Apple Daily’s headquarters in August and arrested a string of senior firm figures, together with Lai, on suspicion of “collusion with foreign forces” underneath a vaguely worded new nationwide safety regulation that Beijing imposed on the town.
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None has to date been charged with any nationwide safety breaches.
But Victor So, the Justice of the Peace overseeing Thursday’s listening to, is from a gaggle of judges chosen by Hong Kong’s chief government to attempt such circumstances.
So denied Lai bail however granted it to Wong and Chow, setting the following courtroom date for April.
The choice means Lai faces months behind bars as police proceed their investigation.
Hong Kong media tycoon Jimmy Lai, 73, (L) proprietor of the native Apple Daily newspaper, arrives at Lai Chi Kok Reception Centre after he was remanded into custody in Hong Kong on December 3, 2020, after being charged with fraud. Anthony WALLACE / AFP
A clampdown has gathered tempo in Hong Kong since China imposed its sweeping safety regulation in June, with opposition politicians disqualified and dozens of activists charged or investigated.
On Wednesday, three distinguished younger democracy campaigners — together with Joshua Wong — have been jailed for collaborating in final 12 months’s democracy protests.
Lai can also be being prosecuted for his alleged half in these rallies in a separate case.
The crackdown has provoked outrage within the West and concern for hundreds of thousands who final 12 months took to the streets to protest communist China’s tightening grip on the semi-autonomous metropolis.
Beijing says stability and order has been restored and has dismissed the large crowds that protested as a overseas plot to destabilise China.
Critics say Beijing has shredded the freedoms and autonomy Hong Kong was promised forward of its handover by Britain.
Lai has lengthy mentioned he fears authorities wish to shutter his newspaper, one of many few native shops nonetheless prepared to vocally tackle Beijing.
In Chinese state media, he’s routinely solid as a traitor and “black hand”.
“I’m prepared for prison,” Lai instructed AFP in an interview two weeks earlier than the safety regulation was imposed.
“I’m a troublemaker. I came here with nothing, the freedom of this place has given me everything. Maybe it’s time I paid back for that freedom by fighting for it,” he added.
Prosecutors have tried bringing circumstances towards him prior to now.
He was acquitted in September of intimidating a reporter from a rival pro-government newspaper.
The corruption watchdog additionally dropped a case towards him over political donations to pro-democracy supporters after 4 years of investigations.
Authorities deny concentrating on Apple Daily or Lai and say police are merely imposing breaches of the regulation.