24th November 2022 – (Hong Kong) Jimmy Lai of Next Digital and Wong Wai–keung, the former director of administration at Next Digital are accused of violating leasing terms with Hong Kong Science Park, saving HK$20 million (US$2,580,282) in rent since 1995 on a separate business, according to the reports. If convicted of fraud, they could face up to 14 years in prison each, according to Hong Kong’s Crimes Ordinance.
After the case was tried in the District Court earlier, Lai and Wong were convicted. The case was adjourned until today (24th). Before the defence began, the judge was concerned about the loss of the plaintiff in the case, and the gains of Apple Daily Printing Limited. The judge was concerned whether the case involves a breach of good faith and whether the prosecution needs to apply for an order to disqualify the defendants from serving as the company’s management. The judge added that after hearing the defence’s pleading, the sentencing of the case should be adjourned to another day.
Regarding whether it is necessary to disqualify the defendants from serving as the company’s management, the prosecution stated that there are relevant regulations that can empower the court to issue an order to disqualify a person who has committed an indictable crime from serving as a company’s management, so there is no need for the prosecution to make an application. Lai first responded to the judge’s concern. Regarding Apple Daily Printing and Dico Consultants Limited’s benefits, Lai’s defence team pointed out that from 2008 to 2020, Dico had paid Apple Printing more than HK$1.19 million in rent from 2008 to 2020. The defence pointed that rent for Grade A or Grade B office building during the relevant period ranged from HK$4.39 to HK$3.38 million. The defence asked the court to consider the lower amount and deduct the rent paid to Apple Daily Printing.
The defence also pointed out that the incident caused the Hong Kong Science Park to lose the right to initiate actions in case of breach of contract, but the “loss” has not been quantified on the correct basis, and the Hong KongScience Park has no legal basis to recover the rent collected from Apple Daily Printing. In terms of whether there is a violation of integrity, Lai’s defence team pointed out that the case does not involve a violation of integrity. Apple Daily Printing and the Science Park only maintained a relationship of lessee and lessor, which was a contract between two commercial organisations. Even if the relevant contract involved low rent, it would not change the relationship between the two parties. The lessee only violated the responsibility in the contract, not the responsibility in good faith.
Lai's defence team continued to plead that the defendant is 74 years old and has not received higher education. The defence hopes that the court will consider that Dico occupied only about 0.16% of the premises involved in the case. The defence emphasised that although the breach of contract in this case was relatively long, the extent of the breach was not very serious, and the degree of fraud was not sophisticated or complicated. Dico used the premises involved in the case mainly for convenience, not for monetary motive.