Hong Kong tycoon Jimmy Lai has been jailed for more than five years for fraud

Hong Kong tycoon Jimmy Lai has been jailed for more than five years for fraud
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HONG KONG, Dec 10 (Reuters) – Pro-democracy Hong Kong tycoon Jimmy Lai was sentenced on Saturday to five years and nine months in prison for fraud, after pleading guilty to breaching a lease agreement for the headquarters of a liberal newspaper.

Lai, 75, was convicted of two counts of fraud for covering up operations at a private company, Deco Consultants Ltd., at the headquarters of the now-defunct Apple Daily newspaper, which was ruled to be in breach of its land lease.

Lai’s sentence drew US condemnation.

Lai, Hong Kong’s most prominent China critic, has been behind bars since December 2020 and served 20 months for unauthorized gatherings.

He headed Next Digital, the parent company of Apple Daily which closed in June 2021 following a police raid.

Another Next Digital executive, Wang Wai-keung, 61, was convicted of fraud and jailed for 21 months.

District Court Judge Stanley Chan wrote in a ruling that Lai “acted under the protective umbrella of a media organization”. Chan said the trial of a media tycoon was “not tantamount to an attack on press freedom.”

The judge knocked three months off his sentence because Lai admitted most of the prosecution’s case.

Western governments, including the United States, have expressed concern over Lai’s plight and denounced what he calls a greater deterioration in the protection of human rights and fundamental freedoms under China-imposed national security laws.

“The United States condemns the grossly unjust outcome of Jimmy Lai’s latest trial,” State Department spokesman Ned Price said in a statement.

“By any objective measure, this outcome is neither fair nor just. We once again call on the PRC authorities to respect freedom of expression, including that of the press in Hong Kong,” he added.

Calling for Lai’s release, Maya Wang, an Asia director at New York-based advocacy group Human Rights Watch, said: “Beijing’s sweeping criminal case against Jimmy Lai is vindictive against a leading advocate of democracy and media freedom in Hong Kong.”

Prosecutors said that under the terms of the newspaper’s lease on a plot of public land in a science park, the property could only be used for “publication and printing” without the operator’s prior permission.

Chan issued an order barring Ly from being a company director for eight years and fined him HK$2 million ($260,000).

Lai’s lawyer, Derek Chan, asked the judge to consider Lai’s age and contribution to Hong Kong’s media industry.

A separate, landmark national security trial involving Lai is scheduled to resume Tuesday. It was delayed while Beijing decided on the contentious issue Foreign lawyerLai, along with British barrister Timothy Owen, should be allowed to work on national security cases.

($1 = 7.7854 Hong Kong dollars)

Reporting by Jesse Pang and James Pomfret; Additional reporting by Matt Spatalnik in Washington; Edited by William Mallard and Daniel Wallis

Our values: Thomson Reuters Trust Policy.

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