HK court grants national security magnate Jimmy Lai bail in case of fraud

HONG KONG (Reuters) – A Hong Kong court granted bail of HK $ 10 million ($ 1.3 million) on Wednesday to media magnate Jimmy Lai, the most important pro-democracy activist accused by the new national security law the city on suspicion of collusion with foreign forces.

An immediate appeal by the prosecution was denied the same day.

Lai is one of the most fervent critics of Beijing’s financial center, while his Next Media group is considered one of the main remaining bastions of media freedom. He was arrested in August, when about 200 police officers broke into the office of his Apple Daily tabloid.

Lai, 73, who has been in custody since December 3, is also accused of fraud related to the rental of a building that houses the Apple Daily.

The security law – which punishes what Beijing broadly defines as secession, subversion, terrorism and collusion with foreign forces until life imprisonment – has been condemned by the West and by human rights groups as a tool to crush dissent in the semi-autonomous, City ruled by Chinese.

Hong Kong and Beijing officials say the law is needed to fill the gaps in national security defenses exposed by months of sometimes violent protests against the government and against China that shook the global financial center last year.

According to the new law, it is up to the defendant to prove that he would not be a threat to national security if he were released on bail. Under Hong Kong’s customary law system, the responsibility traditionally lies with the charge of proving your case.

According to the terms of the bail, Lai is not allowed to meet with foreign officials, give interviews, post articles or post on social media and will have to stay at home and hand over his travel documents.

The tycoon has been a frequent visitor to Washington, meeting with officials, including Secretary of State Mike Pompeo, to gather support for Hong Kong’s democracy, prompting Beijing to label him a “traitor”.

($ 1 = 7.7523 Hong Kong dollars)

(Reporting by Katherine Cheng; Writing by Marius Zaharia; Editing by Tom Hogue)