Media mogul Jimmy Lai’s firms helped protesters get global campaign off ground in 2019, court hears

Bury

Media mogul Jimmy Lai’s firms helped protesters get global campaign off ground in 2019, court hears

Two companies linked to Hong Kong media mogul Jimmy Lai helped an activist group get a global advertising campaign off the ground during the pro-democracy protests and unrest in 2019, a court has heard during Lai’s national security trial.

Detained Hong Kong pro-democracy media mogul Jimmy Lai. File photo: Studio Incendo.

Andy Li, one of the 12 Hongkongers caught by Chinese coastguard in a foiled attempt to flee to Taiwan by speedboat in August 2020, took the witness stand on Wednesday to testify for the prosecution. He previously pleaded guilty to conspiring to collude with foreign forces with Lai over his role in an international campaign to invite “hostile activities” against the city.

While Li did not mention Lai during Wednesday’s hearing, he said two companies – LAIS Hotel Properties Limited (LAIS Hotel) and Dico Consultant Limited (Dico) – were involved in making advance payments for the advertising campaign, also known as “Stand with Hong Kong” (SWHK). Both firms are alleged by prosecutors as controlled by Lai.

The witness, who appeared thin and wore a thick navy jacket, was escorted by three correctional officers into the courtroom at the West Kowloon Law Courts Building.

Li told the court that he was responsible for organising a crowdfunding effort to place ads in leading newspapers around the world ahead of the G20 summit in Japan in June 2019, when city-wide protests broke out against a controversial extradition bill.

A Correctional Services Department vehicle outside the West Kowloon Law Courts Building on February 2, 2024. Photo: Kyle Lam/HKFP.
A Correctional Services Department vehicle outside the West Kowloon Law Courts Building on February 2, 2024. Photo: Kyle Lam/HKFP.

He said a group of residents communicated via messaging app Telegram to develop the advertising campaign, adding that they wanted to “ride on the G20 occasion… to raise international awareness” for the movement.

“The group were very supportive of the idea, and – at that time – we were thinking about how to bring those very eye-catching protest scenes and the momentum to the world stage,” he said in Cantonese on the 44th day of the trial.

Lai – the 76-year-old Apple Daily founder – has pleaded not guilty to two counts of conspiring to collude with foreign forces under the security law and one count of conspiring to publish “seditious” materials under colonial-era legislation.

‘Uncles’ assisted ad campaign

Prosecutors said the campaign involved newspapers in 13 countries, including the US, the UK, France, Australia, and South Korea, as they presented scanned copies of the advertisements and payment records.

They also showed an account Li said he retained for record-keeping, which showed that the campaign sourced around HK$6.7 million through a crowdfunding website and paid about HK$6 million to newspapers, as well as Facebook and Google, to place the ads.

But Li said the money raised through crowdfunding was not readily available, and that he had to use his HK$3 million savings to make advanced payments so that the ads could be published ahead of the international summit in late-June that year.

Hong Kong activist Andy Li. File photo: Screenshot via Youtube.
Hong Kong activist Andy Li. File photo: Screenshot via Youtube.

He said a person named “T”, who he later knew was paralegal Chan Tsz-wah, offered help with “money issues” after he raised the issue in the Telegram group. Chan is another defendant turned prosecution witness in the present trial.

The witness said Chan told him that HK$5 million was reserved for the campaign by some “uncles,” whose identities were not known to Li.

Li said he came to know about LAIS Hotel and Dico when he saw the firms were printed on several payment records that Chan passed to him.

That included remittance advice sent to The Guardian in the UK and The Washington Post in the US, in which LAIS Hotel made a payment of £18,000 (HK$180,240) and US$85,050 (HK$665,344) respectively via a Canada-based credit union, according to copies shown to the court.

West Kowloon Law Courts Building. File photo: Kyle Lam/HKFP.
West Kowloon Law Courts Building. File photo: Kyle Lam/HKFP.

In another record, Dico made a payment of €20,000 (HK$171,174) to RCS Media Group, the parent company of Italian newspaper Corriere della Sera. Li added that Chan did not tell him anything about Dico.

The witness added that he was not involved in the design of the ads and did not draft the text, as he was solely focused on crowdfunding.

‘Mastermind’ and sponsor of campaign

Prosecutors, in their opening statement, alleged that Lai was the “mastermind and financial sponsor” of the SWHK campaign to lobby for foreign sanctions on the city and on China. He was said to have instructed his personal aide, US-based Mark Simon, to finance Li, Chan, and others in the SWHK campaign to request hostile activities from foreign countries.

See also: Hong Kong media mogul Jimmy Lai was ‘mastermind and sponsor’ of foreign lobbying efforts, court hears

Li is the fourth defendant turned prosecution witness to testify against Lai, after three ex-Apple Daily senior executives completed their testimonies.

Police officers outside the West Kowloon Law Courts Building on December 18, 2023. Photo: Kyle Lam/HKFP.
Police officers outside the West Kowloon Law Courts Building on December 18, 2023 as media mogul Jimmy Lai’s trial began. Photo: Kyle Lam/HKFP.

After he and 11 other Hongkongers were intercepted by the Chinese coastguard in August 2020, Li served seven months in a mainland Chinese prison, where he was reportedly “tortured,” before he was transferred back to the city.

An international legal team for Lai in January took their case to the UN Human Rights Council, saying there were “grave concerns… as to whether [Li’s] testimony was procured through torture and coercion.”

The trial continues on Thursday.

Support HKFP  |  Policies & Ethics  |  Error/typo?  |  Contact Us  |  Newsletter  | Transparency & Annual Report | Apps

Help safeguard press freedom & keep HKFP free for all readers by supporting our team

contribute to hkfp methods

SOURCE

Leave a Comment