(Corrects 10th paragraph to say Next Media, not anti-graft
agency and Lee, not Lai)
By Farah Master and Clare Baldwin
HONG KONG Aug 28 Anti-corruption officers in
Hong Kong on Thursday morning raided the home of Jimmy Lai, a
media magnate and an outspoken critic of Beijing who has
supported pro-democracy activists through his many publications.
The raids come after local media said on Wednesday that
China had decided to limit 2017 elections to a handful of
candidates loyal to Beijing, a move likely to escalate protests
by pro-democracy activists.
"The timing is not uncoincidental with this week in our
opinion. If you wanted to cool things down, this is the last
thing you would do," Lai's top aide and spokesman Mark Simon
told Reuters. Simon added that five anti-graft officials had
also searched his home.
Hong Kong's Independent Commission Against Corruption
declined to comment. Trade in Lai's Next Media Ltd was
halted after the stock fell as much as 6 percent.
The raid comes on the heels of e-mails leaked to Hong Kong
newspapers this month which highlighted details of payments that
Lai made to the pro-democracy Occupy Central movement. The
protesters have threatened to lock down the financial district
if Beijing does not grant a fully democratic election for the
city's next leader in 2017.
It is not illegal in Hong Kong to receive political
Lai's popular Apple Daily tabloid also reported that
anti-graft officers also visited the home of Labour Party
lawmaker Lee Cheuk-yan and removed bank documents. Lee was among
the activists arrested on July 2 at a protest billed as a
rehearsal for the Occupy Central movement.
A copy of one of the search warrants seen by Reuters gave
permission for the ICAC to search for items including bank and
electronic records related to payments or donations made by Lai
to Labour Party officials, including Lee.
The warrant also stated it was looking for a connection
between payments or donations and a Legislative Council
discussion in January about "safeguarding editorial independence
Simon said Next Media had not discussed press freedom issues
In July last year, Apple Daily said tens of thousands of
copies of two editions of the newspaper had been torched by
masked men targeting distribution points. Lai's home was also
rammed by a car and the assailants left a machete, an axe and a
threatening message in the driveway, it said.
Reporters and camera crews thronged the area outside Lai's
home in an affluent avenue in Hong Kong's Kowloon district early
on Thursday. He owns a wide range of publications including Next
(Additional reporting by Grace Li; Editing by Anne Marie
Roantree and Edwina Gibbs)