Using the powers of the security law for the first time to target a listed company could have repercussions for investor sentiment in the city.
Hong Kong authorities have frozen assets belonging to jailed media mogul Jimmy Lai, including all shares in his company, Next Digital, the first time a listed company has been subject to national security laws at the financial center.
Among the target assets were also the local bank accounts of three companies owned by Lai, Hong Kong Security Secretary John Lee said in a government statement.
The statement, released after the market closed on Friday, states that Lee had issued “written notices to freeze all shares of Next Digital Limited owned by (Jimmy) Lai Chee-ying and the ownership of the local bank accounts of three companies owned by he ”.
Lai was sentenced to 14 months in prison for participating in unauthorized assemblies during pro-democracy protests in 2019.
He faces three alleged charges under a new national security law imposed by Beijing, including collusion with a foreign country.
The move against their property was also made under the security law, which criminalizes acts such as subversion, sedition, collusion with foreign forces, and secession with possible life imprisonment.
The authorities ’decision to use the powers of the law for the first time to target a Hong Kong-listed company could have repercussions on investor sentiment.
There have been signs of capital flight since the law was imposed last June in foreign countries, including Canada, according to government agencies, bankers and lawyers.
Beijing said it imposed the law on the former British colony to restore order after months of pro-democracy and anti-China protests in 2019.
However, critics say the law has been used by communist leaders in China to suppress freedoms and defenders of democracy, many of whom have been arrested and imprisoned or fled into exile.
Next Digital CEO Cheung Kim-hung told Apple Daily that Lai’s frozen assets had nothing to do with Next Digital’s bank accounts and that its operations and finances would not be affected.
The firm’s employees pledged to continue “fulfilling their duty and keep reporting,” in a statement posted on the union’s Next Next Facebook page.
According to Hong Kong stock statements, Lai is the largest shareholder in Next Digital and owns 71.26 percent of the shares worth approximately $ 350 million Hong Kong (US $ 45 million) depending on the closing price. on Friday.
The value of other “property” assets frozen by the authorities was not immediately clear.
Next Digital runs the Apple Daily, Hong Kong’s most influential pro-democracy newspaper that has long been a thorn in the side of the Chinese and Hong Kong authorities.
Senior Hong Kong officials have recently warned Apple Daily about its coverage and have talked about the possible introduction of a “fake news” law. Critics have said all this is part of an ongoing crackdown on the city’s media.
The Taiwanese group Apple Daily said on Friday that it would stop publishing its print version, blaming declining advertising revenue and the more difficult policy-related business conditions.