Taipei, December 3, 2020 – Magistrate Victor So Wai Tak of the West Kowloon Courts in Hong Kong today denied bail to media entrepreneur Jimmy Lai on a charge of fraud, according to news reports. He is expected to remain in jail until a court hearing on April 16, 2021, according to the reports.
Lai and senior executives of pro-democracy newspaper Apple Daily’s owner Next Digital, Wong Wai-keung and Royston Chow Tat Kuen, are accused of violating leasing terms with Hong Kong Science Park, saving HK$20 million (US$2,580,282) in rent since 1995 on a separate business, according to the reports. If tried and convicted of fraud, they could face up to 14 years in prison each, according to Hong Kong’s Crimes Ordinance.
“Charging media entrepreneur Jimmy Lai with criminal fraud over alleged violations of the terms of a lease, and denying him bail, smacks of an attack on Hong Kong’s independent media,” said Steven Butler, CPJ’s Asia program coordinator, in Washington, D.C. “China seems determined to crush what remains of Hong Kong’s once thriving free press, with disastrous consequences for the people of Hong Kong.”
The trio were detained by police since yesterday after being charged with fraud by the Hong Kong Police Force, according to news reports. Wong and Chow were released on bail on today after a court hearing in the morning. Lai was arrested in February and again in April, alongside other pro-democracy advocates, on suspicion of participating in an illegal assembly; in August he was arrested on fraud and collusion charges, as CPJ documented.
CPJ emailed the Hong Kong Police Force for comment, but did not receive any response.