HSBC has once again frozen the personal bank accounts of self-exiled democrat Ted Hui, his wife and his parents at the request of the police after briefly unfreezing them late on Sunday evening. Police confirmed the move was made in the course of an investigation into around HK$850,000 alleged to have been embezzled through the personal accounts of Hui and his family members.

The police only ordered funds to be frozen in connection to the money laundering probe, Senior Superintendent Steve Li told the press on Monday: “We froze the accounts based on the movement of the funds, which is unrelated to whether they belong to his family members.”

HSBC headquarters in Hong Kong. Photo: GovHK.

He added that the investigation and the freezing of the funds was unrelated to Hui’s other charges and subsequent flight to Denmark last week. Hui – who was on bail – said he was facing nine legal cases in Hong Kong.

“This is unrelated to his absconding, but only to two situations: that the funds were related to money laundering or were proceeds from unlawful activities,” he told reporters. “It’s absolutely not related to his absconding, or to his family, but [to] the strong suspicion that funds were embezzled using his own or other people’s accounts.”

“We only focussed on the money we mentioned, not the three million dollars,” Li said, dismissing Hui’s statements on Sunday saying that around HK$3 million in life savings had been inaccessible over the weekend. Hui also said the money from his public crowdfunding campaign had been deposited in a lawyer’s account.

The police’s order to freeze the accounts follows an announcement on Sunday that Hui was suspected of both embezzling funds from a public crowd-funding campaign and colluding with foreign forces — an offence under the national security law.

Steve Li. Photo: Screenshot via i-Cable.

On the matter of potential security law charges against Hui, Li said that the democrat’s actions abroad are likely to have breached the security law. “Since [Hui] left Hong Kong, his writing made on social media is sufficient evidence for crimes against national security,” he said. “For example, when he said he would liaise or seek help with other places to take some actions, to expand the ‘international front’ with others, which is… to seek sanctions.”

Hui and his family’s bank accounts were frozen over the weekend after his announcement to go into exile. Hui briefly gained partial access to his HSBC accounts while his family regained full access to their funds late on Sunday evening. He said funds had been moved to somewhere safe.

‘Distorted’

HSBC told the press in a statement on Monday that it was “extremely disappointed” that the facts of the case had been “distorted,” while declining to comment on individual cases.

Hui later hit back at the bank’s comments in a post on Facebook, calling on the British multinational to clarify its comments and be transparent: “HSBC said they won’t comment on individual cases, but then pointed out that some facts were distorted. I solemnly request HSBC to give a straight answer and clarify what facts have been distorted, as well as make the incident fully public to set the record straight,” he wrote.

The former Democratic Party lawmaker also said his family members held records showing they could not use their accounts, and their savings showed a zero balance over the weekend, despite the banks’ claim that they had only limited “some banking functions.”

Ted Hui. Photo: Ted Hui Facebook screenshot.

Hui added that HSBC’s actions threatened to undermine public trust in the bank both locally and internationally: “Credibility and reputation are the most important assets in running a bank. This is an extremely serious incident, affecting not only me and my family’s assets, but also the confidence of HSBC customers in Hong Kong and the world.”

“Under the national security law, how many sacrifices are the banking and business industries willing to make to serve the regime?” Hui wrote, referring to the local government and Beijing.

During a legislative session earlier on Monday, Secretary for Finance Paul Chan had side-stepped suggestions that the freezing of bank accounts would risk undermining Hong Kong’s role as a financial centre, saying that Hong Kong’s financial systems remain “robust” despite pandemic and political obstacles.

“Last year we had various disturbances and this year we have Covid-19, and there’s also sanctions from the US,” the secretary said in response to a question from lawmaker Cheng Chung-tai. “For over a year we’ve faced severe challenges but our system remains robust.”

Hui and his family also have accounts with Hang Seng and the Bank of China, which were also reportedly frozen over the weekend. His family is believed to have joined him in the UK after he fled to Denmark last week.

HKFP has reached out to HSBC and the police for comment.

Rhoda Kwan

Rhoda Kwan is HKFP's Assistant Editor. She has previously written for TimeOut Hong Kong and worked at Meanjin, a literary journal. She holds a double bachelor’s degree in Law and Literature from the University of Hong Kong.