Pro-democracy media tycoon Jimmy Lai has been jailed in Hong Kong for fraud
A court in Hong Kong on Saturday sentenced a pro-democracy media tycoon to five years and nine months in prison on two counts of fraud related to rent violations in the city.
Jimmy Lai, who was arrested in a crackdown on the city’s pro-democracy movement following widespread protests in 2019 and under Beijing’s imposed National Security Law, was also fined HK$2 million (US$257,000). .
His media company Next Digital published the now defunct pro-democracy newspaper Apple Daily. The publication was forced to close following the arrest of its top executives, editors and journalists last year.
In October, Lai was found guilty of fraud for subletting part of the office space to a secretarial firm he also controlled between 2016 and 2020. The second fraud case involved the use of the media company’s offices by the same company, an alleged breach of leases from 1998 to 2015.
The court ruled at the time that the moves were against leases with Hong Kong Science and Technology Parks Corp. breached and that Lai had concealed the fact that the company was occupying premises in the building.
In delivering the verdicts on Saturday, Judge Stanley Chan said the violations, which he described as “organized and planned,” occurred over two decades and that Lai used his media organization as a “protective screen.”
He said Lai did not feel guilty about the steps, so there was no reason for the court to reduce his sentence.
Lai’s former colleague Wong Wai-keung, who was convicted of a single fraud charge in the case, faces 21 months in prison, Chan added.
Lai’s legal team had previously asked the United Nations to investigate his detention and multiple charges of “legal harassment” to punish him for speaking out. The tycoon had previously been sentenced to 20 months in prison for his role in unauthorized gatherings.
His national security trial, originally scheduled to begin December 1, was postponed after Hong Kong leader John Lee asked China to effectively bar him from hiring a British defender. If convicted, Lai faces a life sentence.
The passage of the security law has led to the arrest of many prominent democracy activists in the semi-autonomous Chinese city. Hong Kong, a former British colony, returned under Chinese rule in 1997.
It has also damaged confidence in the future of the international financial hub, as growing numbers of young professionals respond to shrinking freedoms by relocating abroad.