Hong Kong targets bank accounts of jailed tycoon Jimmy Lai

Financial sector dragged into the crackdown to silence the democracy activist and Apple Daily founder, report claims

Jailed media tycoon Jimmy Lai is being “nailed to the wall” in Hong Kong under the city’s draconian National Security Law.

The 73-year-old Apple Daily founder has seen his holdings in Next Digital frozen and his bankers allegedly warned that they will be jailed if they deal in his accounts.

Serving a 14-month prison sentence for “unauthorized assembly,” Lai became an iconic pro-democracy advocate during Hong Kong’s summer of discontent in 2019.

Now, he is languishing in a prison cell.

“Secretary for Security John Lee sent letters to Lai and [bank] branches this month threatening up to seven years’ jail for any dealings with the billionaire’s accounts in the city,” the Reuters news agency reported after seeing the documents.

“The letters, signed by Lee, were sent to Lai after the Hong Kong authorities announced the freezing of his majority stake in publisher Next Digital and local accounts of three companies owned by him under a sweeping new National Security Law,” the news agency stated.

The facts:

  • Lai has emerged as one of the highest-profile targets of the new legislation.
  • He faces three charges, including allegedly colluding with a foreign country.
  • The national security law carries a maximum sentence of life imprisonment.
  • More than 10,000 people have been arrested in connection with the protests in 2019.
  • Hong Kong’s pro-democracy movement has effectively been crushed.

Reaction to the news: Hong Kong’s Security Bureau refused to “disclose operational details as judicial proceedings were” continuing. “Suffice to say, endangering national security is a very serious crime,” a spokesman said.

Wake-up call: “We can now see that any banking relationship you have centered on Hong Kong makes you vulnerable under the National Security Law. That is going to be a big wake-up call for the wealth management industry here and their rich clients,” a Lai adviser was quoted as saying.

Hammer blow: “In trying to nail Jimmy Lai and Apple to the wall, they might well be nailing that industry too,” the adviser added.

Delve deeper: China’s ruling Communist Party became increasingly alarmed at the pro-democracy protests in Hong Kong two years ago. At least on one occasion, up to a million people took to the streets. President Xi Jinping’s regime feared a cave-in by the city’s legislative council would trigger similar democratic movements across the country.

The fallout: Hong Kong leader Carrie Lam was summoned to Beijing before being ordered to impose a massive crackdown. The China-inspired National Security Law was rushed through last year and pro-democratic activists were rounded up. Many will be barred from running in elections scheduled later this year under a new “patriots” act.

China Factor comment: The “One Country, Two Systems” model agreed before the British handover of Hong Kong to China in 1997 is dead. The flickering embers of the pro-democracy movement have been extinguished, replaced by fear and loathing for Beijing. “Fear is the inexpensive and convenient way of ruling and controlling people,” Lai said in his final media interview with the BBC before being taken to prison.