Hong Kong’s pro-democracy media mogul Jimmy Lai has been sentenced to 69 months in prison.

Hong Kong's pro-democracy media mogul Jimmy Lai has been sentenced to 69 months in prison.
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Hong Kong

A Hong Kong court on Saturday sentenced jailed media mogul Jimmy Lai to five years and nine months in prison on fraud charges in the latest legal challenge against the pro-democracy tycoon.

After concealing the activities of a consulting company that provides corporate secretarial services to private firms controlled by Lai, it was found that Lai violated the terms of the lease for the headquarters of the now-defunct Apple Daily newspaper.

In addition to the prison sentence, Lai was also fined 2 million Hong Kong dollars ($257,000) and disqualified from being a company director for eight years.

Wong Wai Keung, the director of administration of Apple Daily’s parent company Next Digital and the defendant, was sentenced to 21 months in prison.

In October, Lai and Wong were found guilty of fraud by the same court. Both pleaded not guilty.

Lai, who has been detained for nearly two years, is also on trial under Hong Kong’s sweeping national security law.

Since the security law was imposed by Beijing in 2020, authorities have cracked down on dissent in response to mass anti-government protests.

Activists, protesters and journalists were arrested, civil society was crippled, and a number of independent news agencies were closed.

Lai, 74, is one of the most prominent critics of Beijing charged under the law and faces a maximum sentence of life in prison on charges of collusion with foreign powers. He also faces a charge under the colonial-era sedition law and was sentenced to 13 months in prison in 2021 for taking part in an unauthorized protest.

His pro-democracy tabloid Apple Daily was among the newspapers forced to close after the law was imposed, after police raided the newsroom and authorities froze its assets.

Hong Kong’s government has repeatedly rejected criticism that the law stifles freedoms, instead claiming to have restored order in the city after the 2019 protests.

Hong Kong, a former British colony handed over to China in 1997, continues to use the common law system inherited from England.

An independent judiciary and the rule of law have long been seen as key to the city’s success as a global financial center – although many legal experts have expressed doubts since the introduction of the security law, including two British judges who resigned earlier this year who said the city’s “values โ€‹โ€‹of political freedom went away.”

The city’s legal system typically allows foreign judges in city courts, and lawyers from other common law jurisdictions can work on cases that need their expertise.

However, cases under the national security law are handled by a special unit of the Hong Kong police and appointed national security judges, raising concerns about Beijing’s potential influence over the proceedings.

Lai was also at the center of this controversy. In November, Hong Kong’s highest court upheld a ruling allowing a British lawyer to represent the tycoon in a national security case. The city’s chief executive, John Lee, has since said he will ask Beijing to determine whether foreign lawyers are engaged in national security work.

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