A Hong Kong court on Saturday handed down a new sentence for pro-democracy media mogul Jimmy Lai, sentencing him to five years and nine months in prison after he was found guilty of rent fraud.
Welay, 75, co-founder of the now-defunct Apple Daily newspaper, recently served a 20-month prison sentence after several convictions for participating in unsanctioned protests and gatherings.
He also faces a life sentence in his upcoming trial on national security charges, according to AFP.
While previous convictions relate to his role in the massive pro-democracy demonstrations that swept Hong Kong in 2019, the most recent case involves one of his companies violating the lease terms for his newspaper’s offices.
Lai and Apple Daily chief executive Wong Wai-Keung were convicted in October of fraud in what Judge Stanley Chan called a “year-old planned and orchestrated” conspiracy.
Prosecutors said the consulting firm, which Lai ran for his own use, occupied space rented by Apple Daily for publishing and printing.
Prosecutors considered this a violation of the terms of the lease agreement concluded by Apple Daily with a state-owned company, and equated it with fraud.
The defense lawyers argued in their submission that the case was to be a civil, not a criminal process, and added that the space involved was very small.
In addition to the prison sentence, Lai was ordered to pay a fine of 2 million Hong Kong dollars (US$257,000).
The co-defendant, 61-year-old Wong, was sentenced to 21 months in prison, and the judge likened him to “a driver who facilitates an escape to commit a robbery.”
The judge said the verdict was punishment for a “simple fraud case” that took place in the 1990s when a lease was negotiated.
He criticized Apple Daily for using its reputation as a “protective shield” as a well-known media company and believed it prevented the owner from taking action against breaches of the agreement.
But he said the case had nothing to do with politics or freedom of the press.
Li is one of Hong Kong’s most prominent pro-democracy activists, whom Beijing has long openly hated.
Apple Daily has been critical of the Chinese Communist Party for years and publicly supported democracy.
And last year it collapsed after its funds were frozen and many of its prominent employees, in addition to Lai, were charged under the national security law imposed by Beijing on Hong Kong, especially because of their efforts to incite international sanctions against China.