Chinese Court Sentences Lai to Five Years on ‘Fraud Charges’

Tycoon Jimmy Lai has been sentenced by Chinese Authorities to more than five years in prison for fraud

  • Jimmy Lai, 75, was charged with fraud for covering up the operations of Dico Consultants Ltd at the headquarters of the Apple Daily newspaper.
  • District Court Judge Stanley Chan reduced Lai’s sentence by three months after recognizing that the newspaper could only be used for “publishing and printing” without prior approval from the operator.

Pro-democracy Jimmy Lai, a businessman from Hong Kong, was found guilty of fraud and given a five year, nine month prison term. The 75-year-old billionaire was found guilty on Saturday of two charges of fraud for concealing Dico Consultants Ltd.’s operations at the offices of the now-defunct Apple Daily newspaper, which was deemed a violation of its land rights.

The ferocious China critic was first detained and charged in December 2020 and has since served 20 months in prison for unlawful assembly during large-scale pro-democracy rallies in 2019. Nine more people were given jail or suspended sentences. Lai was the CEO of Apple Daily’s parent business, Next Digital, which was shut down earlier in June 2021..

Lai had “acted under the umbrella of a media organisation,” according to District Court Judge Stanley Chan’s ruling. The trial of a media mogul, he continued, “wasn’t equivalent to an attack on press freedom.” According to the prosecution, the newspaper’s lease on a parcel of government land stipulated that it may only be used for “publishing and printing” without prior consent from the owner. Lai’s sentence was shortened by three months after acknowledging a large portion of the prosecution’s case.

The predicament of Lai has drawn the attention of western governments, particularly that of the United States, who have also denounced what they say a general decline in the protection of fundamental rights and human rights.

Maya Wang, Asia director for the New York-based advocacy group Human Rights Watch, called for Jimmy Lai’s release and argued that Beijing’s convoluted criminal case against him was an act of retaliation against a prominent supporter of media freedom and democracy in Hong Kong. Lai’s attorney, Derek Chan, had pleaded with the judge to take Lai’s age and contributions to Hong Kong’s media business into account.

Tuesday marks the start of the second day of a crucial Lai national security trial. Beijing’s decision on the contentious question of whether foreign attorneys, such as Lai’s British barrister Timothy Owen, should be permitted to serve on national security issues has caused a delay. The maximum term for Lai’s two counts of conspiring to collude with foreign nations or outside organisations is life in prison, he also faces and one count of violation of the national security legislation for colluding with foreign forces and he is also accused of sedition in connection with the Apple Daily publication by Chinese Authorities..