The swoop comes just as the city prepares for long-threatened Occupy Central protests
Updated: 8:38 a.m. EST on Thursday.
Hong Kong anticorruption officers raided the home of media mogul and outspoken democracy advocate Jimmy Lai early Thursday morning, just days before Occupy Central protests are slated to commence in the city’s financial heart.
“ICAC [Independent Commission Against Corruption] was here,” Lai told reporters outside his home, according to the South China Morning Post. “They’ve all gone now and there is no further comment.”
According to documents leaked in July, Lai, who runs Next Media and founded the hugely popular Apple Daily newspaper, has donated more than $1.2 million to pan-democratic causes over the past year.
Pan-democrat lawmaker and Labour Party leader Lee Cheuk-yan had earlier admitted that he received a total of $190,000 from Lai, which allegedly stayed in his personal account for a short time before being moved to that of his party.
Under Hong Kong law, donations to political parties are lawful and do not even have to be disclosed, but payments to individuals holding political posts are prohibited.
ICAC officers also swooped on Lee’s home on Thursday and banking documents were seized, reports the Post.
The ICAC said in a statement that it launched the raids after receiving a complaint. “The Commission investigates every case impartially, without fear or favour and in strict accordance with the law,” it said. “The ICAC, as always, has no political consideration in enforcing the law.”
Nevertheless, the raids come at a time of high political tension in Hong Kong. Authorities in Beijing are meeting this week to discuss how to administer the Special Administrative Region’s next leadership election in 2017.
Hong Kong residents have been promised the right to elect their own Chief Executive, the territory’s highest post, by that year, but the Chinese Communist Party wants a veto over which candidates can stand.
Democracy activists claim this will ensure a Beijing proxy controls the city of 7 million, and have organized the Occupy Central protests to press their demand for freer nominations. A July 1 pro-democracy rally drew as many as 172,000 people, according the University of Hong Kong.
Sources told local media that Beijing is mandating a 1,200-member nomination committee that will then approve two or three candidates for Chief Executive. Hong Kong’s pan-democrats have indicated such a system would be unacceptable, and so Occupy Central may commence as early as Sunday, when a separate though aligned pro-democracy rally has also been planned.
This leaves the possibility open for violent confrontations, as police have indicated they would forcibly remove anyone seeking to block the city’s teeming business district.