Hong Kong pro-democracy media mogul Jimmy Lai was remanded in custody on Thursday after appearing in court on a fraud charge, while a police investigation into his alleged collusion with foreign forces continues.
The court move comes a day after prominent pro-democracy activists Joshua Wong and Agnes Chow were sentenced to months in prison over an unlawful assembly around the territory's police headquarters last year. Chow's lawyer said Thursday she had filed an appeal, which now goes to the High Court for approval.
Lai, the founder of Next Digital Ltd., which publishes the outspoken Apple Daily newspaper, along with two of his associates, appeared at the West Kowloon Magistrates' Courts to each face a charge of fraud over a land-use violation involving his media office.
The prosecution alleges that Next Digital defrauded the landlord, Hong Kong Science and Technology Parks Corp., by subletting without permission part of the premises to secretarial service company Dico Consultant Ltd., partly-owned by Lai, and in turn pocketing rental income of HK$19.8 million ($2.55 million) from Dico between 2016 and 2020.
No plea was taken.
In remanding Lai, Chief Magistrate Victor So cited flight risk and likelihood to reoffend but granted bail to the other two, chief operating officer Royston Chow and administrative director Wong Wai-keung. The court was adjourned until April 16.
The trio was arrested in August on suspicion of collusion with foreign forces, a crime punishable by life imprisonment under the sweeping national security law, as authorities intensified efforts to suppress dissent following the law's imposition on Hong Kong in late June.
The three were later freed on bail. But on Wednesday, they were detained again and charged with fraud.
About 30 people have been arrested for allegedly breaching the national security law, which outlaws acts of secession, subversion, terrorism and collusion with foreign forces.