Hong Kong pro-democracy activist Jimmy Lai is found guilty of fraud

Hong Kong pro-democracy activist Jimmy Lai is found guilty of fraud
Source: Chan Long Hei/Bloomberg

Do you remember the Hong Kong protests that broke out and gained traction in 2019? Well, the city is still feeling the affects of those. In fact, a few major names have been dealing with the waves brought on by their links to the demonstrations. One of those people is media mogul Jimmy Lai, who founded the folded pro-democracy tabloid called Apple Daily.

In response to the protests in Hong Kong, Beijing created a new national security law to crack down on dissent in early 2020. A little over three months earlier, Lai was arrested and later sentenced to prison for participating in demonstrations. Then, in mid-2021, Apple Daily published its last edition after its offices were raided, senior editors were arrested under the new law and its financial accounts were frozen.

On Tuesday, Lai was found guilty of two counts of fraud, adding to his prior convictions, for which he was already serving a 20-month sentence. Lai and two of his former executives were found guilty of fraud for subletting part of their office, which allegedly broke the leasing agreement. He faces another trial later this year for sedition and colluding with foreign forces. Lai’s lawyers have pressured Western governments to react and asked the UN to investigate the charges.

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“It was obvious that the inside of Apple Daily thought there was a lease violation,” Judge Stanley Chan said during the trial. “If they thought there were no violations, they could have applied for a license,” he added.

“The lessee’s obligation cannot be clearer under these circumstances,” Judge Chan said in his 156-page verdict. “A failure to act can naturally constitute concealment. A false statement can even be treated as an act to defraud.”

“Today’s urgent appeal addresses the numerous national security, criminal and regulatory cases

which have been lodged against Mr Lai and his newspaper over the past two years,” said a press release from Lai’s legal team. “It calls on the United Nations experts to consider all of the cases against Mr Lai and the threats to him together, ‘as they constitute prosecutorial, judicial and legal harassment of Mr Lai, because of his advocacy of democracy and the rights to protest and freedom of expression in Hong Kong SAR, and his work as founder and editor of Apple Daily.’ The appeal also highlights intimidatory tactics used against Mr Lai’s lawyers, which raise further concerns.

“The HKSAR government has thrown many charges against my dad: for unauthorised assembly, for fraud, for colluding with foreign forces under the National Security Law,” said Lai’s son, Sebastien Lai. “But his only crime, like so many other Hong Kongers behind bars for purely political reasons, is to demand democracy in the face of tyranny.”