Pro-Beijing newspapers have been launching attacks against Sing Pao’s chief over his “fugitive” status after his paper carried a front page commentary attacking the city’s leader and the Beijing representative in Hong Kong.
Gu Zhuoheng, chief of the pro-Beijing newspaper, denied he was a wanted man, and dismissed the attacks as political revenge by “some power.”
The semi-official Hong Kong China News Agency reported on Wednesday that Gu, chairman of Sing Pao Media Enterprises, was a wanted man. He stands accused of stealing deposits totalling 130 million yuan (HK$151 million) from a Chinese online financing platform. The report claimed Gu fled overseas to avoid arrest, and reported that his status was confirmed by Shenzhen police.
Local pro-Beijing newspaper Wen Wei Po also cited the same news on Wednesday, which originally came from a report in April 2015 from China’s Southern Metropolis Daily, stating that Shenzhen police had applied for a global arrest warrant for Gu at the time.
The developments came after a commentary carried by Sing Pao on its front page on Tuesday claimed that Chief Executive Leung Chun-ying was “inciting” the Hong Kong independence movement with the help of the China Liaison Office. The commentary demanded an investigation of them.
Wen Wei Po criticised Sing Pao for “smearing” the Hong Kong government and the central government organ in Hong Kong, claiming the reason behind the commentary may be due to Gu’s “fugitive” status.
“It does not care about media ethics – to deduce and mislead at their own will… as the chief is involved in a criminal case, is it an ugly way for Sing Pao to become a private tool at a key moment?” it wrote.
Wen Wei Po, alongside with another pro-Beijing paper, Ta Kung Pao, also carried reports about Gu’s detention in September 2014 by Shenzhen police at the city’s airport. Police found that Gu held several fake identity cards and military passes under different names.
The Ta Kung Pao report on Thursday morning claimed that Gu was holding three passes related to the military, but his document for crossing the Hong Kong and Macau borders was listed as a business type, and that “his identity was a mystery.”
It added that Gu provided details of the alleged deposit theft case to the police, but then was unheard of for some time before appearing again in Hong Kong to take over Sing Pao.
The report also interviewed Leung Lap-yan, former publisher of Sing Pao, who said the Tuesday commentary was “ridiculous” and the newspaper’s management have “lost their minds” by becoming the opposition in order to attract readers.
Sing Pao’s front page on Thursday dismissed all attacks as smears, saying that – in exposing the Leung Chun-ying and China Liaison Office circle – the newspaper was “not afraid to speak the truth.”
“Stop suppressing freedom of speech, stop making threats, give peace and safety back to Hong Kong society,” it read.
In a statement from Gu also printed on the front page, he said: “The commentary on Sing Pao’s front page on August 30 resonated profoundly with the Hong Kong public, receiving much support.”
Gu said he was shocked by attacks on him and Sing Pao, as he condemned them. He also noted that Sing Pao staff members should be careful of their safety.
Gu claimed that the Southern Metropolis Daily report last year involved “speculation” and “untrue and libelous content” which were not confirmed with him before publishing.
“I clarified publicly in April last year, and wrote to the newspaper to ask them to stop smearing,” he said. “Unfortunately, Wen Wei Po repeated the untrue report on the internet once again, spreading rumours – I am extremely disappointed.”
“Because I was unwilling to bow down to some power, I have been a target of political revenge since last year,” he said. He did not explain which power he was referring to.
He also said he was not the related legal person of the Shenzhen online financing platform cnmeidai.com – which he stands accused of taking money from – adding that he was not a shareholder and he did not take any money.
Gu added that he has always been free to travel between mainland China and Hong Kong.