Issued on: 10/12/2022 – 10:09
A Hong Kong court sentenced a pro-democracy media tycoon to five years and nine months in prison on Saturday over two fraud charges linked to lease violations, the latest of a series of cases against prominent activists that critics say are aimed at crushing dissent in the city.
Jimmy Lai, who was arrested during a crackdown on the city’s pro-democracy movement following widespread protests in 2019 and under the National Security Law imposed by Beijing, was also fined 2 million Hong Kong dollars ($257,000).
His media company, Next Digital, published the now-defunct pro-democracy newspaper Apple Daily. The publication was forced to close following the arrests 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, which was also controlled by him, between 2016 and 2020. The second fraud count was for letting the same firm use the media outlet’s office space in an alleged breach of lease agreements from 1998 to 2015.
The court at that time ruled the moves had violated lease agreements with the Hong Kong Science and Technology Parks Corp. and that Lai had hidden the fact that the company was occupying space in the building.
Handing down the sentences on Saturday, Judge Stanley Chan said the violations, which he called “organized and planned,” occurred over two decades and that Lai had used his media organization as “an umbrella of protection.”
He said Lai did not feel guilty about the moves, so there was no basis for the court to reduce his jail term.
Lai’s former colleague Wong Wai-keung, who was convicted on a single charge of fraud over the