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Hong Kong media magnate's home searched

Anti-corruption police raid homes of Jimmy Lai and his aide days before Beijing decides on key voting reform in region.

Last updated: 28 Aug 2014 18:32
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Lai's company owns the popular newspaper Apple Daily, which is frequently critical of Beijing [File: AP]

Hong Kong's anti-corruption police have searched the homes of a media magnate who is an outspoken critic of Beijing and a pro-democracy legislator after receiving a complaint alleging that lawmakers had taken bribes.

Wielding search warrants, officers from the Independent Commission Against Corruption paid a morning visit to the homes of Jimmy Lai and his top aide, Mark Simon, on Thursday, the aide said. Pro-democracy lawmaker Lee Cheuk-yan's home and office also were searched.

The timing raised concerns because it comes days before a key decision by Beijing on direct elections for the leader of Hong Kong, a special administrative region of China.

It also comes a month after a trove of documents was leaked to competing news outlets detailing big donations by Lai to local pro-democracy political parties and politicians, including Lee.

However, the ICAC said in a statement it carried out the searches after it received complaints alleging that some lawmakers accepted bribes. It did not identify anyone involved.

'They took nothing'

Lai told reporters camped outside his home in an upscale neighbourhood that "ICAC was here." "They've all gone now and there is no further comment," he said.

Lai's company Next Media owns the popular newspaper Apple Daily, which is frequently critical of Beijing.

Simon said ICAC officers spent three hours going through the computers in his home, but they "took away nothing, they downloaded nothing." He said he did not know if anything was taken from Lai's home.

On Sunday, China's legislature is expected to unveil a proposal to allow Hong Kong voters, rather than a committee of pro-Beijing elites, to vote for their leader.

But the proposal is widely expected to require candidates to be vetted by a committee loyal to Beijing, which will anger democracy groups calling for genuine democracy and set the stage for a confrontation between the two sides.

Simon said the police searches were "a wonderful diversion two days, three days before what's not going to be very popular is announced".

The ICAC denied that there was any "political consideration" in carrying out the operation.

Shares of Next Media have been suspended from trading on the Hong Kong stock exchange, pending an "announcement related to inside information of the company,'' it said.

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Source:
Associated Press
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