18th April 2019 – (Hong Kong) Mark Simon, a Republican and the right hand man of Jimmy Lai, the owner of Apple Daily is back in the limelight again after he was seen accompanying his boss in several recent high-profile meetings with US top government officials and more recently with Christian Whiton, a US national security expert at a dinner in Central.
Graduated from East Carolina University; National Defence Intelligence College; Georgetown University, his career spanned across various industries. He started his early days as US Navy Analyst between 1987-1991, Sea-Land Service, manager; 1994-95, K-Line Shipping, global accounts manager; Trans-Pacific Lines, chief operating officer before joining Jimmy Lai in 2000 as a senior executive. He was introduced to Jimmy by by conservative writer Bill McGurn who subsequently also became George Bush’s chief speechwriter during the Wall Street Journal editorial writers’ dinner.
Mark Simon’s father worked at CIA in the United States for 35 years and he interned with them before spending 4 years with naval intelligence. Many Chinese state media agencies have labelled him as an ex-spy and ‘backstage man’ for Jimmy. Simon takes care of private equity investments, property and hotel investments for Jimmy’s family and he also takes charge of Next Media’s advertising and sales strategies. In addition, Simon is Jimmy’s confidant as he took care of personal issues for his wife, Teresa such as helping to save on duties when at least HK$4m worth of red wines were purchased from overseas and taking care of her when she had food poisoning.
During the Occupy Central period, the local media exposed a link between Jimmy Lai and Paul Wolfowitz, the former second man in the US Defence Department during the Bush administration. Two of them were spotted spending 5 hours on a yacht in Sai Kung.
In 2014, Simon was in hot seat when emails and documents between Simon, Lai and several other senior staff were hacked and leaked to the local media. The contents of the documents showed detailed funding for pro-democracy activists and plan for Occupy Central protest. Jimmy Lai allegedly footed HK$3.5m to hold its unofficial referendum in June.
The donations were in principle not illegal but some pro-Beijing media suggested the money originated in the United States as Simon was formerly involved in navy intelligence.
The leaked documents also suggested that Simon helped Lai build relationships with right-wing US politicians. He set up a meeting between Jimmy and former Republican vice-presidential candidate Sarah Palin together with a group of pan-democrats during her visit to Hong Kong in 2009.
Both Simon and Jimmy Lai did not dispute the authenticity of the leaked documents. However, Simon was furious after it went public.
Independent Commission Against Corruption (ICAC) began investigations after receiving information on the leaks. Jimmy Lai was first questioned on 19th September 2014 for over two hours before they conducted a search at Mark Simon’s residence but they only took away his daughter’s computer. He was subsequently questioned at the North Point ICAC office for over two hours before leaving at around 1pm. He did not reply to any questions by media reporters after he left.
Department of Justice (DOJ) eventually dropped the charges as there was insufficient evidence found. Several parties who allegedly received HK$1.5m and HK$300,000 respectively from Jimmy via Mark included Lee Cheuk-yan, Alan Leong (Chairman of the Civic Party), James To, Democratic Party member of the Legislative Council of Hong Kong, Claudia Mo, Pan-democrat activist and Tanya Chan, founding member of Civic Party were let off by DOJ as there was no evidence found.
The dropped charges sent shockwaves across the local political scene as most felt that the decision of DOJ not to prosecute them lacked transparency.
Jimmy Lai’s right-hand man eventually moved his family back to the US during the Occupy Central period after his address was exposed online.
Fast forward to 2019, U.S. Vice President, Mike Pence and Secretary of State Michael R. Pompeo met up with Jimmy Lai and Mark Simon on 8th July in Washington, D.C in the wake of multiple protests by Hong Kongers against the proposed amended extradition bill. Mark Simon told media that both parties had a constructive talk on the current situation between China and Hong Kong and also with Taiwan. However, the details of the meeting between Jimmy Lai and Mike Pence remained confidential. Jimmy Lai also met up with National Security Advisor John Bolton after meetings earlier with Vice President Mike Pence, Secretary of State Michael Pompeo and Republican Senators Ted Cruz, Cory Gardner and Rick Scott. However in a recent FOX NEWS interview, he denied meeting any officials from the Trump administration.
It is noteworthy that Mark Simon writes regularly. He is also a contributor to Hong Kong Free Press (HKFP), a free, non-profit online newspaper based in Hong Kong founded by independent journalists which recently raised over HK$1.6m in their 2019 funding drive. On 1st of June this year, he wrote an article in HKFP on how New York will benefit if China destroys Hong Kong.
On 17th June, Mark again wrote an article for FOX NEWS on the street protests in Hong Kong and ended the article with a sentence ‘Trust me, they will march every weekend if it keeps the Chinese Communist Party away from their door.’
More recently on 3rd August, he was again spotted having dinner in an Italian restaurant in Central with Jimmy Lai, Christian Whiton, a national security expert who has served as a senior advisor in the George W. Bush and Donald J. Trump administrations. Several others pan-democrats closely knit to Jimmy was also spotted.
In 2014, Mark Simon, Jimmy Lai’s aide who was accused of being an American spy during the Occupy Central said that he believes ‘the US government has no interest in meddling in Hong Kong but merely wants it to remain stable.‘ but two days ago his employer, Jimmy Lai said during the FOX NEWS interview that United States has a moral authority to support Hong Kong as both share the same Western Values. So, it seems like some pressing issue like perhaps the trade war with China has changed the mind of the United States Government?
His role as a backstage man has been condemned regularly by the Chinese state media but he maintains his stand that his not an American spy until today.