HSBC and Citi bankers who ignore the directive will be “liable to a fine and seven years in prison,” according to Bloomberg News letters.
Hong Kong authorities sent letters threatening the bankers of media mogul Jimmy Lai to up to seven years in prison if they dealt with any of their accounts in the city.
Security Secretary John Lee, who signed the letters seen by Bloomberg News, previously announced that he was freezing bank accounts linked to the pro-democracy Apple Daily editor, according to Hong Kong’s strong national security law . The letters were sent to HSBC Holdings Plc and Citigroup Inc. earlier this month.
According to the letters, bankers who ignore the directive will be “subject to a fine and a sentence of seven years in prison.”
“I am exercising power because Lai has been charged with two crimes of collusion with other countries or external forces to endanger national security,” Lee said in a news release Thursday. “It is my duty to specify in my notice to the relevant parties what the consequences will be if they do not comply with my instruction.”
A Citigroup spokesman said in an email that it does not comment on individual accounts and must comply with all laws and regulations applicable to the markets in which it operates. An HSBC spokeswoman declined to comment.
The cards could further scare investors at the Asian financial center at a time when Beijing is tightening control of the city. More than 40% of members surveyed by the local American Chamber of Commerce said they could leave Hong Kong, highlighting the business community’s concerns about security law and strict government policies related to Covid-19.
Lai, a prominent democratic activist who used his media properties Next Digital Ltd. to support the 2019 protests against China, he is currently in jail for attending unauthorized rallies in Hong Kong. He also faces more serious charges under security law, including “collusion” with foreign forces.
A financial adviser to Lai said the amount of money in the accounts was relatively small, but that it represented Hong Kong’s end of a network of international banking relationships related to its private wealth, according to Reuters, which reported the existence of the letters above.