Hong Kong’s security minister on Wednesday slammed self-exiled former lawmaker Ted Hui Chi-fung as “shameless, hypocritical and cowardly” for jumping bail, while insisting the move to freeze bank accounts belonging to the activist and his family had nothing to do with his absconding.
The harsh criticism from John Lee Ka-chiu came as the government revealed it had stopped paying Hui’s district councillor salary after he announced he would not return on December 3, saying it was to ensure “public funds are properly used”.
“The Home Affairs Bureau expresses deep regret over the irresponsible act of Mr Hui,” a bureau spokesman said. District councillors are currently paid HK$33,950 per month, along with a monthly operating expenses reimbursement.
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Hui, now in Britain, criticised the government’s move, calling it “political suppression overriding laws and procedures”.
“There is no legal basis to stop my remuneration payment. It bypassed the established procedures of the district council … and further showed that the administration was flustered and inconsistent,” he wrote on his social media account, adding his district councillor’s office had not stopped operating since he left Hong Kong.
Hui added that he had not received any remuneration from the government upon his departure given his HSBC bank account had been frozen.
The former Democratic Party lawmaker left the country while out on bail awaiting trial on charges tied to last year’s anti-government protests and his actions in the legislature.
He flew to Denmark in late November with the court’s permission, ostensibly to attend climate change meetings, only to announce he had decided to enter self-imposed exile in Britain.
Shortly after his arrival there, he said his bank accounts and those of his family members – at HSBC, Hang Seng Bank and Bank of China – had been frozen.
While Lee never called Hui by name at a Legislative Council meeting on Wednesday, the security chief vowed to hold the opposition activist criminally responsible.
“He’s a person who blatantly jumped bail and absconded, compiled fake itineraries and lied to the court. He is doubly guilty,” he said.
The reasons for freezing the accounts were linked to money laundering, and had nothing to do with his absconding
Hong Kong Secretary for Security John Lee
“After breaking the law, he just left and escaped. He is deceiving himself and others, with his shameless, hypocritical and cowardly behaviour.”
He also defended the force’s move to freeze the bank accounts of Hui and his family members.
Police last week admitted they had frozen HK$850,000 (US$109,600) in accounts allegedly connected to a money-laundering case involving an “absconded Hongkonger” accused of misappropriating money from a crowdfunding campaign.
Hui insisted all the money he raised online for a planned private prosecution of police officers had been saved in his law firm’s bank account and called the police move an act of political revenge.
“The reasons for freezing the accounts were linked to money laundering, and had nothing to do with his absconding,” Lee said on Wednesday. “The bank accounts of Hui’s family members were frozen not because of their ties to the ex-lawmaker but the possibility that they might be related to the money-laundering case.”
But independent lawmaker Cheng Chung-tai slammed Lee for confusing the public, and accused the government of cooking up a charge for Hui after they already knew he had left the city.
Lee, however, was in no mood to argue the point.
“I do not think we should spend so much time on someone who always lies,” he said in an apparent reference to Hui. “If that person disagrees, he – who jumped bail – should return to the city and explain, or ask his legal representatives to challenge our decisions.”
Lee also emphasised that if local law enforcement agencies no longer believed the frozen funds were suspicious after investigation, they would be unlocked, adding that the city’s mechanism for freezing suspicious funds met international requirements.
Separately, justice minister Teresa Cheng Yeuk-wah told reporters outside the Legislative Council that she was aware of certain remarks recently made against judges which she believed amounted to threats. These remarks, which called for the release of certain individuals or the withdrawal charges, were a waste of effort, she said.
Cheng also vowed to speak out on the judicial system when necessary, and rejected suggestions her doing so would deal a blow to the justice department’s impartial image.
“The Department of Justice has a duty to come out and put the facts right when things are misreported either by the media or misstated by a relevant person,” she said.
While Cheng did not explain to whom she was alluding, the department recently issued a strongly worded statement hitting back at international criticism surrounding the jailing of prominent activists Agnes Chow Ting, Joshua Wong Chi-fung and Ivan Lam Long-yin.
The trio was jailed for seven to 13 months for organising and inciting others to join a 15-hour siege of police headquarters at the start of last year’s social unrest.
Additional reporting by Chris Lau