Hong Kong’s Chief Executive Carrie Lam on Tuesday rejected complaints by self-exiled democrat Ted Hui that the freezing of his bank accounts was an act of political revenge which would tarnish the city’s banking system.

The former opposition lawmaker, who was facing nine criminal charges in Hong Kong, announced last Thursday during a visit to Denmark that he would quit the Democratic Party and go into exile in Britain. Hui told Danish media he could be jailed for decades or even life if he stayed in his home city.

Carrie Lam at a press conference on December 8, 2020. Photo: RTHK screenshot.

Without naming Hui, Lam at a press conference challenged the credibility of the “absconder.” She said the public should be “extremely careful” about whether to trust the words of an individual who told lies to the courts in order to get permission to leave the city while on bail.

“So I ask this question – is this individual a trustworthy individual? That you should take his words on face value and accuse Hong Kong financial institutions of doing things which are not in accordance with the law?” Lam asked.

On Monday, HSBC re-froze the personal accounts of Hui and his family members at the request of the Hong Kong police, who said the move was related to a money laundering probe regarding Hui’s crowd-funding drive. Police said they suspected HK$850,000 had been embezzled through the accounts of Hui and other people.

Police said on Sunday they were also investigating Hui for allegedly colluding with foreign forces, an offence under the Beijing-imposed national security law which is punishable by up to life imprisonment.

Ted Hui. File photo: Legislative Council, via Flickr.

In response, the ex-lawmaker published audits linked to the crowd-funding campaign and said the money it received was never transferred to other accounts. He said the action taken by the force was “political revenge.”

“[I] think the police handling of the matter was not serious. They gave up on the reputation of the entire banking system for [the sake of] suppressing a lawmaker in exile,” Hui wrote on Facebook.

Lam said that if there was any damage to Hong Kong’s financial institutions, “the culprit is this individual.” She said police would fully investigate the case while the Department of Justice would independently consider whether to launch a prosecution. The government was operating in accordance with regulations but authorities could not reveal too many details of the investigation at the moment to avoid jeopardising the case, she said.

A HSBC branch in Mong Kok. Photo: GovHK.

Asked whether the authorities were targeting democratic figures, after police rounded up 16 people linked to a peaceful university campus demonstration or a July 1 protest, Lam said she would not comment on the arrests.

But she added: “As long as these people are called ‘pro-democracy activists, in their eyes [western governments] they seem to have a shield and law enforcement agencies cannot touch them. This is not the spirit of a rule of law society.”

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Kelly Ho

Kelly Ho has an interest in local politics, education and sports. She formerly worked at South China Morning Post Young Post, where she specialised in reporting on issues related to Hong Kong youth. She has a bachelor's degree in Journalism from the University of Hong Kong, with a second major in Politics and Public Administration.