(Adds ICAC comment)
By Farah Master and Clare Baldwin
HONG KONG Aug 28 Anti-corruption officers in
Hong Kong on Thursday raided the home of Jimmy Lai, a media
magnate and outspoken critic of Beijing who has supported
pro-democracy activists through his publications and with
Hong Kong, which returned to Chinese rule from British
colonial administration in 1997, has been deeply polarised and
hit by protests over how its next leader will be chosen in 2017
- by universal suffrage, as pro-democracy campaigners want, or
from a list of pro-Beijing candidates.
The raid on Lai's home in an affluent avenue in Hong Kong's
Kowloon district came after media said on Wednesday China had
decided to limit nominations for the 2017 election to a handful
of candidates loyal to Beijing, which will likely 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
The standing committee of China's parliament, the National
People's Congress, is expected to announce its decision on Hong
Kong's future on Sunday.
Simon said five anti-graft officials had also searched his
The city's Independent Commission Against Corruption (ICAC)
said later in a statement it had searched three residences and
the office of a lawmaker as part of a bribery investigation.
It said it also served a "statutory notice" to the secretary
general of a political party. It did not identify the people or
the party and said no arrests had been made.
Lai owns Hong Kong-based media company Next Media, which
publishes Next Magazine and the popular pro-democracy Apple
Daily tabloid newspaper.
Lai spoke briefly to media outside his home after the raid,
confirming that the ICAC officials had left but he declined to
Trade in his Next Media Ltd was halted after the
stock fell as much as 6 percent.
This month, emails leaked to Hong Kong newspapers gave
details of payments that Lai made to the pro-democracy Occupy
The group has threatened to shut down Hong Kong's financial
district with protests if Beijing does not allow the 2017
election to be fully democratic. It is not illegal in Hong Kong
to receive political donations.
Lai's Apple Daily newspaper reported that anti-graft
officers had also visited the home of Labour Party lawmaker Lee
Cheuk-yan on Thursday and removed bank documents. Lee was among
activists arrested on July 2 at a protest billed as a rehearsal
for the Occupy Central movement.
A copy of a search warrant seen by Reuters gave permission
for the ICAC to look for items including bank and electronic
records related to payments or donations made by Lai to Labour
Party officials, including Lee.
This year, Next Media said HSBC Holdings and Standard
Chartered had pulled millions of dollars worth of advertisements
from Apple Daily after they were pressured by Beijing.
HSBC and Standard Chartered said the decision to pull the
advertising was for commercial reasons.
In July last year, Apple Daily said tens of thousands of
copies of two editions of the newspaper had been torched by
masked men at 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
(Additional reporting by Grace Li; Editing by Anne Marie
Roantree, Edwina Gibbs, Robert Birsel)