5:35 am - Wednesday November 4, 2015

Anti-corruption investigators target prominent Communist Party foe

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Anti-corruption officials in Hong Kong have launched an early morning raid on the home of an outspoken media tycoon known for his withering criticism of Beijing.

Four officials from Hong Kong’s Independent Commission Against Corruption (ICAC) arrived at the home of Jimmy Lai, 65, at just after 7am, according to local reports.

Lee Cheuk-yan, a prominent pro-democracy leader, said investigators had also come to his home, in what appeared to have been a related action.

“ICAC was here. They’ve all gone now and there is no further comment,” Mr Lai told reporters.

The raids come at a sensitive time as Beijing is set to announce its blueprint for the 2017 election of Hong Kong’s leader on Sunday with pro-democracy groups vowing to launch a wave of non-violent protests if they do not see sufficient democratic advances in those plans.

No immediate explanation was offered for the raid of Mr Lai’s home but its timing drew accusations that it was a political move designed to intimidate and smear Hong Kong’s pro-democracy movement.

“It is clear-cut political persecution. What else could it be?” Claudia Mo, a legislator from Hong Kong’s Civic Party, told the South China Morning Post.

Tensions between Hong Kong’s pro-democracy movement and China’s central government have been growing for months.

On July 1, hundreds of thousands of protestors, including some carrying colonial-era flags, marched through China’s special administrative region to demand greater democratic rights from Beijing.

That was followed by a pro-Beijing march on August 18 where tens of thousands gathered in Hong Kong’s business district to protest against Occupy Central, a coalition of pro-democracy groups that is threatening major protests.

China’s state-controlled media has taken a hardline on the protest movement. On Thursday, one China Daily commentator accused “foreign intelligence agents” of colluding with “subversive forces to hurt Hong Kong’s economy and then profit from the chaos”.

Jimmy Lai, who was born in mainland China but moved to Hong Kong as a young boy, is the owner of Next Media, a media conglomerate known for its shamelessly tabloid style but also its pro-democracy stance.

He is famed for his colourful braces, his support for the pro-democracy movement and his frequent attacks on the Communist Party.

“It’s not mainland China that rubs me up the wrong way, it is the dictatorship that rubs me up the wrong way,” he told CNN in a 2009 interview.

“It’s the freedom that we Chinese people are not allowed that rubs me up the wrong way.”

Mr Lai’s publications include Apple Daily, a Chinese-language newspaper that opened in 1995 and has found itself on the frontline of the increasingly ferocious tussle between pro-democracy groups and supporters of the Chinese Communist Party.

Earlier this month a rival newspaper published a fake obituary for Mr Lai in which it was claimed he had died of Aids and cancer. “There will be no funeral for his death,” it read.

The obituary – in fact a full-page advertisement placed by an unknown client – was widely interpreted as a threat to the Apple Daily’s outspoken owner.

Mr Lai hit the headlines over the summer following claims he had donated millions of pounds to a number of well-known pro-democracy politicians.

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