Royston Chow, the former chief operating officer at Next Digital Limited, has become a witness for the prosecution in an ongoing fraud trial involving his former boss, Jimmy Lai. Next Digital is the parent company of the defunct pro-democracy newspaper Apple Daily.

Chow – with Lai and former director of administration at Next Digital Wong Wai-keung – stood accused of concealing the operations of Dico Consultants Limited (Dico) at Apple Daily’s headquarters from the landlord, the Hong Kong Science and Technology Parks Corporation. Chow and Wong each faced one count of fraud, while Lai faced two.

Jimmy Lai, the founder of the now-defunct pro-democracy newspaper Apple Daily. File photo: Kelly Ho/HKFP.

According to local media, the court revealed that the Chow had been granted immunity from prosecution, as he took the stand to testify against Lai at the District Court on Monday.

Before Chow was summoned, Judge Stanley Chan warned against anyone contacting the witness, saying there was a “very large chance” such actions would carry legal implications.

“[The consequences] ranges from criminal threat offences to perverting the course of justice. The conviction can be based on words alone,” Chan added.

Lai’s ‘private company’

Chow said he had joined Next Digital in 1993 as a finance director.

According to Chan, Dico changed its registered address to Apple Daily’s headquarters at Tseung Kwan O Industrial Estate on April 1, 1998, and that it had started operating at the address before the lease was signed.

The last edition of Apple Daily. File photo: Kelly Ho/HKFP.

However, Chow said the company had never appeared on the office complex’s directory, adding that he did not know whether this was intentional.

He said Dico was a “private company” of Lai, and it was responsible for the management of the media tycoon’s cars, yachts and house.

In addition, Chow said the companies under Dico, as well as their assets and investments, all belonged to Lai and were not related to printing or publishing.

Dico was at first situated at the first floor, but was relocated to the fourth floor as the head count increased, as Wong, Lai’s aide Mark Simon and others joined the company, Chow said.

Apple Daily headquarters. File photo: Candice Chau/HKFP.

Apple Daily ceased publishing last June after Lai and other senior members of staff were charged under the national security law.

The media mogul has been detained behind bars since December 2020 and is currently serving sentences for protest-related cases. He also faces charges under the colonial-era sedition law.

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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.