Hong Kong anti-corruption investigators visited the home of Next Media Ltd. Chairman Jimmy Lai, whose donations to pro-democracy lawmakers have become the focus of legislative scrutiny.
Next Media spokesman Mark Simon said in a text message he suspected the visit by the Independent Commission Against Corruption, was related to “a new angle,” and not just the donations. Trading of Next Media was halted on the Hong Kong stock exchange today after the shares fell 3.1 percent.
Hong Kong’s legislature is deciding whether to seek a probe into Lai’s donations of more than HK$10 million ($1.3 million) to pro-democracy lawmakers since last year. The donations, revealed in e-mails leaked to local newspapers, were made amid an increasingly contentious debate about how the former colony should elect its next leader in 2017.
The Chinese government, which took back control of Hong Kong from the U.K. in 1997, has said the city’s leader should be a patriot. This week, the government is discussing a draft plan that would cap the number of candidates and require they get majority support from a 1,200-member nomination committee, according to the South China Morning Post.
Simon, Next Media’s spokesman, said anti-corruption investigators also visited his home. Simon also said ICAC investigators also paid a visit to Labor Party Chairman Lee Cheuk-Yan. A message left with Lee wasn’t immediately returned today. Lee apologized for not declaring donations from Lai, Oriental Daily reported Aug. 20.
In a statement today, the ICAC said it started an investigation after getting complaints that some Legislative Council members took bribes. It said it searched four locations -- three residences of people involved in the case and the office of a Legislative Council member. The statement didn’t name any targets in the probe.
Next Media’s Apple Daily newspaper is known for its criticism of the Chinese government. Earlier this month, its rival, Oriental Daily, printed a fake obituary saying Lai had died on Aug. 7. Lai posted a video on Apple Daily saying “Sorry to disappoint you.”
A district councilor, Chan Wan-sang, and a group calling itself Voice Of Loving Hong Kong have filed complaints to the ICAC asking for probes into the lawmakers, Radio Television Hong Kong reported on July 24.
“Donation is prima facie legal and not considered as a bribe, as long as the politician who takes money hasn’t agreed to do an illegal favor for the one who gives money,” Jianlin Chen, an assistant law professor at the University of Hong Kong, said in an e-mail.