Hong Kong pro-democracy activist and former law professor Benny Tai has been charged by the anti-corruption watchdog over allegedly illegal election spending in the run-up to the 2016 Legislative Council polls.

Benny Tai
Benny Tai in a demonstration held on January 1, 2019. Photo: Etan Liam, via Flickr.

The Independent Commission Against Corruption (ICAC) announced on Monday morning that Tai, 57, along with Ip Kim-Ching, 55, and Sek Sau-ching, 50, had been charged with violating the Elections (Corrupt and Illegal Conduct) Ordinance (ECICO).

The trio were accused of incurring over HK$253,000 in election expenses by placing six newspaper advertisements in September 2016, even though none of them were candidates or agents.

ThunderGo plan

Tai devised a tactical voting strategy called “ThunderGo” in the lead-up to the 2016 legislative elections. This called for pan-democrats to cooperate in an attempt to win more than half the seats in the Legislative Council. A platform collated voter preferences for particular candidates and gave electors suggestions on how to vote tactically.

Voters were able to indicate their preference using the platform before the poll, and were then given specific advice on who to vote for. Final tactical voting advice was issued on election night before the polls closed.

The plan proved controversial and some critics said it actually caused the pan-democrats to lose seats.

2016 legco legislative elections candidates leaflets advertising
2016 LegCo election fliers. File Photo: HKFP.

“Tai, via a radio programme, press conferences and social media, introduced to voters a voting scheme with a goal to have more than half of the elected members coming from a particular group by recruiting voters to cast their votes for particular candidates based on recommendations to be provided by the scheme,” the ICAC statement read.

The trio used a company called The Eggs Alliance Company Limited (Eggs Alliance) to pay for three newspaper advertisements in Ming Pao newspaper, and three in the now-defunct Apple Daily newspaper. Ip and Sek were both directors of the company and controlled its bank account, the anti corruption agency said.

“Section 23(1) of the ECICO stipulates that it is an illegal conduct for a person, other than a candidate or a candidate’s election expense agent, to incur election expenses at or in connection with the election,” the statement read. “Any expenditure incurred for promoting or prejudicing the election of a particular candidate or particular candidates should be counted as election expenses.”

Tai has been in custody since February this year after he and dozens of others were charged with violating the national security law in connection with a primary election to select democratic candidates in July 2020.

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Selina Cheng is a Hong Kong journalist who previously worked with HK01, Quartz and AFP Beijing. She also covered the Umbrella Movement for AP and reported for a newspaper in France. Selina has studied investigative reporting at the Columbia Journalism School.