Hong Kong authorities have hit back at the US following its statement on pro-democracy media mogul Jimmy Lai’s fraud case, calling the remarks made “purely politically oriented” and far from the truth.

Jimmy Lai
Jimmy Lai. File photo: Studio Incendo.

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In a Thursday statement, the Hong Kong government said it would “not be appropriate to comment” on an ongoing case but said: “Foreign politicians who deliberately turn a blind eye to the reasons for the court’s verdict and make unfair and biased comments… not only reveal their ignorance, cowardice, unfairness, arrogance and disregard of the law, but also make their attempts futile.”

Lai, the founder of defunct pro-democracy newspaper Apple Daily, was convicted on Tuesday of fraud after a court ruled he had violated the terms of the lease for the publication’s headquarters.

The US Department of State issued a statement the next day, describing the verdict as being based on “spurious fraud charges.”

US state department
US State Department. Photo: Wikicommons.

“We remain deeply concerned about the deterioration in protection for human rights and fundamental freedoms and the systematic dismantling of Hong Kong’s autonomy under the National Security Law (NSL),” the statement read.

“Though Lai’s fraud trial was not on NSL grounds, local authorities nonetheless imposed the NSL’s more restrictive legal procedures for this non-NSL case,” it continued, adding that efforts to stifle press freedom and restrict information flow hurt the city’s credibility as a business hub.

In response, the Hong Kong government statement said the US had been “exploiting different incidents and making up excuses” to “slander” the national security law since it was passed over two years ago.

“The thinking of the United States Government that to repeat a lie numerous times will turn it into a truth simply reflects its malicious and ill intent,” Hong Kong authorities said.

China Hong Kong flag Central Government Offices
Photo: Kelly Ho/HKFP.

Lai had earlier pleaded not guilty to two counts of fraud. He was said to have concealed the fact that a consultancy office had been operating out of Apple Daily’s Tseung Kwan O headquarters since 1998.

According to the case details revealed during earlier court hearings, the lease stated that Apple Daily’s offices were to be used for “the publishing and printing of newspaper and magazines” only. However, the consultancy occupied part of the premises, providing secretarial services to other firms and managing Lai’s and his family’s assets, the court heard.

‘The most disruptive force’

China’s foreign ministry also slammed the US’s remarks on Lai’s case, accusing the country of attempting to “whitewash” the media mogul.

“The evidence is irrefutable in Jimmy Lai’s fraud case and it’s a statutory duty for Hong Kong courts to try the case in accordance with law,” the Office of the Commissioner of the Ministry of Foreign Affairs said on Thursday.

Apple Daily
Apple Daily’s final edition on June 23, 2021. Photo: Kelly Ho/HKFP.

The US, the office added, plays “all tricks possible to damage Hong Kong’s prosperity and stability” and is “the most disruptive force Hong Kong faces.”

Lai, who is also facing charges under the colonial-era sedition law, has been remanded in custody since December 2020.

His newspaper Apple Daily folded last June after police officers raided the headquarters and arrested Lai and others connected to the publication, raising concerns about the fate of press freedom in the city.

The media mogul will face sentencing next month.

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Hillary has an interest in social issues and politics. Previously, she reported on Asia broadly - including on Hong Kong's 2019 protests - for TIME Magazine and covered local news at Coconuts Hong Kong.