The head of Hong Kong beverage giant Vitasoy has sought to defuse a simmering crisis by revealing the company has sacked a staff member responsible for an internal memo expressing condolences to the family of an employee who stabbed a police officer and killed himself on July 1.
Vitasoy executive chairman Winston Lo Yau-lai reiterated that the memo’s wording was “extremely inappropriate” and “deviated from the company’s core values”, according to an internal letter to employees widely circulated online and on Weibo.
The company was swept into a political maelstrom after the controversial message was sent to employees on Friday morning, saying a 50-year-old purchasing manager surnamed Leung had “unfortunately died” in Causeway Bay on Thursday. It did not directly refer to the stabbing.
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The memo claimed to represent the company and expressed its deepest condolences to Leung’s family, which, it said, had been contacted by Vitasoy’s human resources department.
The expression of support quickly triggered public uproar in mainland China – the company’s primary market – where its products were soon threatened with a boycott.
Tags such as “boycott Vitasoy”, “stay away from Vitasoy” and “Vitasoy get out of mainland China” proliferated on Weibo, China’s version of Twitter.
Breaking his silence in a three-page letter sent to employees on Tuesday, Lo, 80, said the leaked memo had been written by a staff member without official approval and that they had been sacked following a thorough investigation.
“The employee’s behaviour and the wording in the file are all extremely inappropriate, and have completely deviated from the beliefs and core values of Vitasoy. I think this is completely unacceptable,” he said, adding the company reserved the right to take legal action against the fired employee.
Lo, son of Vitasoy founder Lo Kwee-seong, described the Causeway Bay attack on July 1 as “a serious, illegal violent act that openly challenged the law”.
“We will always and continue to firmly condemn any violent behaviour that undermines the safety and stability of Hong Kong and the mainland,” he wrote.
“The company is currently fully cooperating with the police, hoping that the case can be resolved as soon as possible.”
Lo said his company would strengthen its staff’s education on honesty and integrity in the future and reminded every employee to abide by the laws and regulations of the countries or cities in which they work.
“Vitasoy’s DNA involves loving and being completely loyal to the country and Hong Kong”, he said.
“These are some basic responsibilities and bottom lines that we will never give up.”
The Post has contacted Vitasoy for comment.
Lo’s internal message marks the third time since the memo was leaked that Vitasoy has expressed its full backing for a police investigation into what authorities have characterised as a “lone wolf-style act of domestic terrorism”.
Vitasoy – which derives two-thirds of its annual turnover from the sale of soybean milk, tea and fruit juices on the mainland – posted two statements on Weibo just hours after the memo was leaked, emphasising its support for authorities to investigate the incident under the national security law while distancing itself from the unauthorised message.
The stock price of Vitasoy International plunged 12 per cent to HK$25.95 in Monday trading and completed its worst single-day loss in 15 months, and climbed back to HK$27 on Wednesday after Lo’s letter was widely circulated.
A police investigation that followed the July 1 attack concluded that Leung bore hatred towards police and the city’s national security law based on suicide notes found, and that the attack was premeditated.
The constable, an eight-year veteran with the force, suffered a 10cm-deep wound, with the knife piercing his lung. His condition had improved from critical to stable by Sunday.
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