District Court Judge Stanley Chan Kwong-chi found Lai had concealed the fact that he was subletting part of his newspaper’s office headquarters to a secretarial firm, also owned by Lai, between 2016 and 2020, violating agreements with the Hong Kong Science and Technology Parks Corp. The judge added that he did not believe Lai had forgotten the firm was occupying the space.
Wong Wai-keung, Lai’s former colleague, was also convicted of fraud, while a former senior executive of Next Digital, Royston Chow, evaded criminal liability by making a deal with the prosecution.
Lai is also facing charges of collusion with foreign powers under Hong Kong’s national security law and is due to stand trial on December 1. According to Caoilfhionn Gallagher, who leads the international legal team for Lai, this latest verdict means that Lai will “be a convicted prisoner going into his national security law trial.”
Lai has faced repeated arrests and prosecutions for his pro-democracy activism and criticism of the Chinese Communist Party’s encroachment on Hong Kong’s autonomy. He was arrested following a crackdown on pro-democracy protests in 2019 and is currently serving a 20-month sentence for his role in organising unauthorised demonstrations against police brutality.
Lai’s lawyers are urging the United Nations to investigate his imprisonment and various criminal charges on the basis that it represents “legal harassment.”
On October 14, the IFJ released its 2022 report on freedom of expression in Hong Kong, expressing deep concern at the nation’s gutting of independent media and press freedom. The IFJ called on governments internationally to maintain vigilance in condemning the actions of the Hong Kong and Chinese governments and urging for respect to Hong Kong’s Basic Law obligations and press freedom.
The IFJ said: “The District Court’s verdict to convict Jimmy Lai on fraud charges sets a grave precedent for his upcoming trial under the draconian national security law. The Hong Kong authorities’ ongoing arbitrary persecution of Lai violates fundamental rights to freedom of expression and freedom of the press. The IFJ urges the authorities to withdraw all charges laid against Lai immediately and release him from prison.”