National security police officers have raided a private office in Kowloon belonging to pro-democracy media tycoon Jimmy Lai.

A top executive told HKFP that staff were absent at the time owing to Covid-19 arrangements, but attended when the police arrived at around 10.30am on Thursday morning. Police showed a search warrant for the raid at the Kowloon Millennium City office, which Next Digital executive Mark Simon said was connected to their investigation into Lai’s private companies.

Jimmy Lai. Photo: Kelly Ho/HKFP.

Despite a request over the phone from Simon – who is the head of the office and Lai’s aide – police refused to wait for lawyers to attend and left quickly.

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“The goal of this raid is harassment and to find a way to shut down Mr. Lai’s private businesses,” Simon said, adding that officers had boxed up and taken away some documents at the 600sq ft premises.

Speaking to reporters later on, Lai said: “It seems that they are looking for every possible reason to charge me… The police didn’t even wait for the lawyer to come before they took things away, so that’s not rule of law.”

Police confirmed with HKFP that national security department officers raided the office with a search warrant issued by a magistrate: “Some relevant exhibits were seized for investigation and no person was arrested today,” a spokesperson said.

‘This is outrageous’

Simon, who is currently in Taiwan, told HKFP that the business operations of Lai’s Apple Daily were not located at the Kwun Tong office. However, it was “publicly known” that Lai had been infusing funds from his private businesses into the pro-democracy tabloid to keep it afloat. “In other words the police are looking to cut off the funding for Apple Daily,” he said.

Apple Daily’s office in Tseung Kwan O. Photo: Kelly Ho/HKFP

“This is outrageous – there’s an active investigation going on – people have already been cautioned, the prime target of the investigation is Mr. Lai, and they come in and do a raid and then they just disappear.”

Lai was arrested on August 10 on suspicion of colluding with foreign forces under the Beijing-imposed national security law. He was also accused of conspiracy to defraud and “uttering seditious words.” His two sons and senior executives of Next Digital were also apprehended for similar offences.

Simon is also being sought by Hong Kong police.

Police sent over 200 officers to raid the Next Digital office in Tseung Kwan O on the day of Lai’s arrest. They took away at least 30 boxes of evidence, according to the Apple Daily.

Earlier, on June 16, 12 commercial crimes bureau officers raided one of Lai’s offices in Wan Chai in connection to allegations that he was operating a secretary services business without a license and had breached a rental agreement to use Next Digital’s Tseung Kwan O headquarters for non-industrial purposes. In May, police chief Chris Tang revealed that the embattled newspaper was being investigated for alleged fraud and land-lease violations.

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Tom is the editor-in-chief and co-founder of Hong Kong Free Press. He has a BA in Communications & New Media from Leeds University and an MA in Journalism from the University of Hong Kong. He has contributed to the BBC, Euronews, Quartz, Global Post and others.