Hong Kong’s High Court has ordered that Jimmy Lai’s Next Digital Limited – the parent company of now-defunct Apple Daily – must be wound up.

A supporter of Apple Daily holds a copy of its final edition outside the newspaper’s headquarters in Tseung Kwan O on June 24, 2021, before the newspaper was forced to shut following accusations that it violated the national security law. File Photo: Studio Incendo.

Provisional liquidators reporting to the court on Wednesday will now take over proceedings to wind up the company.

In a rare move, Hong Kong’s Financial Secretary Paul Chan demanded that the group – founded by jailed pro-democracy media tycoon Jimmy Lai – be dissolved. He cited “public interests” in September.

As the company did not send any of its own representatives, Next Digital Limited was represented by two government lawyers from the Department of Justice during its liquidation hearing.

Following the arrest of its senior staff under the national security law, Hong Kong’s security chief froze the assets of three companies under Next Digital Limited, meaning the pro-democracy tabloid Apple Daily was unable to finance its operations. It shut down in June.

Under the new Beijing-written law, authorities are allowed to freeze assets of any individual or company in the city that are deemed a security threat, without court approval.

Jimmy Lai. File photo: Studio Incendo.

The company’s founder – Lai – together with six former executives were charged with “colluding with foreign forces,” one of the four offences outlawed by the sweeping security legislation in June 2020. The prosecution accused them of conspiring to request foreign powers to impose sanctions on Hong Kong and China.

They were all denied bail by local courts. The law carries a maximum punishment of life imprisonment. 

Taiwan unit under pressure

One of the government lawyers told reporters outside court that the winding-up petition is effective within the region of Hong Kong and he had no knowledge of dealings between provisional liquidators and Next Media Limited’s Taiwan arm.

Bloomberg reported earlier this month that Hong Kong-based liquidators had contacted the Taiwanese branch of Jimmy Lai’s media empire to ask for information regarding the assets of Apple Daily Taiwan’s unit.

The report also claimed the Taiwan branch of the newspaper was running out of funds and will cease operation this month.

Taiwan’s Apple Daily then issued a statement saying the company “has no knowledge of where the origin of such an assumption comes from,” and refused to comment further. 

Public gathering outside Taiwan Apple Daily office on 14 Decemver, 2021 Photo: Citizen News.

Taiwan citizen groups and Hongkongers on the island gathered outside one of Apple Daily’s Taiwan offices on Tuesday, expressing concern over the Hong Kong court liquidation order.

Participants said they were worried that information requested by Hong Kong authorities could be used against former Apple Daily employees and sources in Hong Kong courts, according to CitizenNews.

Apple Daily’s Taiwan arm later stated that it was not involved in the event and had no relationship with its organisers.

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Peter Lee

Peter Lee is a reporter for HKFP. He was previously a freelance journalist at Initium, covering political and court news. He holds a Global Communication bachelor degree from CUHK.