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Day 62: April 17, 2024

The Witness: Live Update | 62nd day of Jimmy Lai’s trial – Chan Tsz-wah: Andy Li’s team received HK$500,000 in funding for district election monitoring action

Next Digital founder Jimmy Lai and three related companies of Apple Daily are charged with “conspiracy to collude with foreign forces” among other crimes. The case entered its 62nd day of trial on Wednesday (17th) at the West Kowloon Magistrates’ Courts (acting as the High Court). The fifth “accomplice witness” Chan Tsz-wah testified for the fourth day, mentioning that before the 2019 district elections, Andy Li’s team organized an election monitoring action, inviting foreign legislators to Hong Kong, and he helped Li request funding from Lai’s assistant Mark Simon, after which Li was informed of receiving HK$500,000.

Chan also stated that after the district elections, he met with Mark Simon, who mentioned that online platform promotion and international lobbying were more effective than newspaper advertising. Additionally, he and his boss “began researching primaries” to achieve a major victory in the 2020 Legislative Council elections. Chan mentioned that in January 2020, Lai also informed him that he had “got a quote from a European company to develop a software for the primaries referendum.”

In court yesterday, after the November 2019 “Ma On Shan man-burning” incident, Lai expressed fear to Chan via WhatsApp. Chan testified that the next day he attended a dinner with Lai, Lee Wing-tat, and Lee Cheuk-yan, where Lai strongly criticized the “valiant faction” for abusing violence, worrying that if “lives were taken,” the movement would lose its moral high ground and international support.

The case is presided over by designated National Security Law judges Esther Toh Lye-ping, Susana Maria D’Almada Remedios, and Alex Lee Wan-tang. The prosecution is represented by Deputy Director of Public Prosecutions Anthony Chau Tin-hang, Assistant Director of Public Prosecutions Ivan Cheung Cheuk-kan, and Senior Prosecuting Officer Crystal Chan Wing-sum; Jimmy Lai is represented by Senior Counsel Robert Pang Yiu-hung, Barrister Steven Kwan, and New Zealand King’s Counsel Marc Corlett with Hong Kong practicing qualifications.

16:20 Court adjourned

16:04 Chan testifies about meeting with Jimmy Lai and Finn Lau in Taiwan

The prosecution continued questioning about the meeting in Taipei in January 2020. Chan Tsz-wah testified that the participants included a woman surnamed Lin. Chan recalled that during that time, he mentioned Lai’s meeting in a Telegram group, where someone expressed a desire to meet Lai, namely the woman surnamed Lin, who had also provided information about the valiant faction.

Regarding Shih Ming-teh, who was present at the meeting, Chan described him as a Taiwanese democracy activist who had “spent many years in prison” and had been involved in the “Depose Chen” movement. What made the deepest impression on Chan was the “Red Shirt Army” incident, as Shih had shown him something related to it when they met.

The prosecution further inquired about the itinerary of the trip to Taipei from January 10 to 12, 2020. Chan recalled that after arriving at Taoyuan Airport, he proceeded to the hotel. The next day, Chan and the woman surnamed Lin were driven by a driver to Yangmingshan to meet Lai at his villa, with “Lam Chau Pa” Finn Lau also present. Chan stated that he was ultimately unable to observe the Taiwan presidential election in person, only watching it on television at Lai’s residence. The third day included a meeting with Shih Ming-teh, with Finn Lau and the woman surnamed Lin also participating, followed by a return to the hotel for a meeting.

15:55 Chan: Jimmy Lai once asked if Andy Li was “pro-independence”

Chan Tsz-wah stated that he subsequently informed Andy Li that he would be going to Taiwan to “watch the elections” and meet with Jimmy Lai, and that they would then hold an online meeting, but Lai did not mention “whether Andy Li could come,” nor did Chan ask Lai “if Andy Li could go,” and Li felt it was indifferent.

The prosecution asked if Chan mentioned Andy Li to Lai in January 2020? Chan confirmed he did, noting that during fundraising, “the coordination was his (Li’s) responsibility, not mine.” Later, Jimmy Lai also asked whether Andy Li was “pro-independence,” to which Chan responded, “I believe he is not.” Additionally, Lai inquired why Chan had not gone to the United Nations, “because actually, I was supposed to speak, why let someone else do it?” Chan also mentioned that these conversations included mentions of Andy Li.

15:40 Prosecution repeatedly asks about Jimmy Lai’s reason for wanting to meet Finn Lau; Chan: Because Lai “really wanted to establish a leadership team”

The prosecution asked if Chan Tsz-wah had conveyed the details of his December 2019 meeting with Jimmy Lai to Andy Li. Chan confirmed that he did, including Lai’s intention to meet with “Lam Chau Pa” Finn Lau, and that on the international front, “Jimmy Lai did not want us to monopolize the microphone and take over the narrative”; and that internationally, the message should be unified around the “five demands,” also mentioning the primaries. However, Li responded at the time that the Legislative Council elections were “still a while away,” so he was not interested.

The prosecution then showed a WhatsApp conversation between Lai and Chan from January 2, 2020, in which Lai asked, “Has our guest confirm the Taipei trip for Monday and Tuesday?” Chan confirmed that “the guest” referred to Finn Lau.

Chan also confirmed that ultimately Lau and Lai met in Taipei from January 10 to 12, with attendees including Chan himself, Finn Lau, Jimmy Lai, a woman surnamed Lam (林),Lee Wing-tat and his wife, and Albert Ho Chun-yan and his wife, and the Shih Ming-teh couple.

The prosecution further asked, as Lai mentioned wanting to meet Lau several times in the messages, why did Lai want to see Lau? Chan explained it was because Lai “really wanted to establish a leadership team,” and Lau led the “Lam Chau team” and “SWHK” (Fight For Freedom. Stand With Hong Kong).

15:15 Chan testifies about another meeting with Jimmy Lai, noting Lai emphasized “international support is more important than the support of the valiant faction”

Chan Tsz-wah recalled meeting with Jimmy Lai again in December 2019. The prosecution displayed a WhatsApp conversation between the two from December 31 of that year. Lai messaged Chan to propose a meeting, and they met again in Lai’s car. At that time, Lai wanted Chan to tell him about the details of his meeting with Finn Lau in the UK. Chan then discussed Lau’s hesitation, as Lau felt that Lai’s stance towards the “valiant faction” seemed “not suitable for the two of them to meet.” Chan quoted Lai as saying, “He(Lai) hopes I understand that it’s not that he doesn’t support the valiants, but he needs to appeal to the West to gain international support, so he needs to adopt such a posture.” Lai also believed, “Undeniably, international support is more important than the support of the valiant faction.”

Chan described that at the time, the international front was “very chaotic, with different voices, some advocating for Hong Kong independence,” while others only wanted to defend “one country, two systems,” and some advocated for sanctions or blockades against Hong Kong. Lai thought that “young people were vying for the narrative,” meaning the mainstream opinion, and Lai disagreed with this stance.

Chan continued, Lai believed that the ideology of the “old democrats” should be used as a mainstream opinion, and he wanted to unite the international line and the Lam Chau faction. According to Chan’s understanding, “He (Lai) wanted to lead the entire international line.” Chan recalled that during their meeting that day, Lai instructed him to share the content of their conversation and later “talk about the things related to the primaries, to inform the young people,” including advising young people to pay more attention to election work, “so that public sentiment can be rallied, and he spoke of the benefits of the primaries.”

Under questioning, Chan noted that Lai thought that organizing primaries could concentrate the “yellow ribbon” votes. Given the large number of young people involved in the 2019 anti-extradition law movement, Lai believed the primaries could “attract these young voters” and increase voter turnout. Furthermore, if novices ran and were defeated in the primaries, their votes in the final Legislative Council elections could “flow to the old democrats,” enabling other candidates to gain these votes, ultimately consolidating the democratic camp’s seats in the Legislative Council.

15:00 Chan: Mentioned meeting with Rogers in the UK to Jimmy Lai and Andy Li

Chan Tsz-wah added that during his meeting with Benedict Rogers in the UK, Rogers inquired about the situation in Hong Kong and discussed “whether there are ways to resolve the conflicts” between the people of Hong Kong and the Hong Kong government. At that time, Rogers suggested, “Could I bring social issues, such as the anti-extradition law movement, to an international court for resolution?”

Chan described that Rogers believed the ultimate resolution of Hong Kong’s issues would come through dialogue. Rogers also asked, “Are there specific things that I can actually speak out about and request foreign assistance for?” After his trip to the UK, Chan also mentioned the meeting to Jimmy Lai and Andy Li. Chan noted that he initially covered his travel expenses himself, but ultimately Lai reimbursed him.

14:31 Chan says he arranged a meeting between Jimmy Lai and Finn Lau; Lai also wanted Chan to meet with the founder of “Hong Kong Watch” in the UK

The prosecution continued to question about Andy Li’s visit to the U.S. in December 2019, with Chan Tsz-wah testifying about the details Li provided post-visit. The prosecution asked if Chan had relayed Li’s information to anyone else. Chan stated he informed Mark Simon and included details about Li’s visit to Japan and the display of tear gas canisters.

The prosecution also inquired about a WhatsApp conversation between Jimmy Lai and Chan Tsz-wah in December 2019. Chan mentioned, “the guest agrees to fly to Jap for a meeting. I will be going to UK to see him.” Chan clarified in court that “the guest” referred to Finn Lau, and at the time, Lai requested a meeting with “Lam Chau Pa” Finn Lau.

When asked why Lai requested a meeting with Lau, Chan explained that after an earlier meeting with Lai, Lai had contacted him by phone, noticing that the “Lam Chau” team was “developing well.” Lai learned that Chan could not contact the valiant squad, but suggested Chan should be able to reach “Lam Chau Pa” Finn Lau, who was more prominent on the international front and in publicity. Thus, Chan contacted Lau to express Lai’s wish for a meeting to “meet him and understand his thoughts.” Chan noted that he eventually met Lau in the UK in December of that year.

The prosecution then displayed another WhatsApp conversation between Chan and Lai, with Chan messaging Lai, “I am going to meet him in person this week. Then I will let you know in advance about his schedule. He feels right to meet you in Taipei/Japan subject to your availability.”

When asked why Lai wanted to meet Lau, Chan mentioned Lai wanted to “discuss forming a leadership team.” Chan recalled that during his meeting with Lau, he conveyed Lai’s idea of combining the “iron triangle” forces to form a leadership team, which Lau hesitated about. Chan also noted that Lau had reservations about Lai’s suggestion that non-violent protest methods should be the primary approach. Chan described proposing that Lau and Lai could talk directly, and Lai would cover the related costs, including plane tickets and accommodations. Eventually, Lau agreed to meet Lai, and they met in Taipei in January 2020.

Chan added that his trip to the UK also involved meeting Benedict Rogers, the founder of the human rights organization “Hong Kong Watch.” Chan mentioned that Lai had originally hoped he would also meet with Lord David Alton, but it did not happen due to the latter’s unavailability. When asked why Lai wanted Chan to meet with Lord Alton and Rogers, Chan explained it was because Lai wanted him to “know more people” to facilitate future involvement in international lobbying efforts.

12:44 Lunch recess

12:12 Chan: Andy Li said he went to the U.S. for international lobbying, “took some photos with people, met some people, and gave them a sanctions list”

The prosecution questioned Chan Tsz-wah about Andy Li’s meeting with U.S. Senator Rick Scott. Chan confirmed that after meeting in Hong Kong in September 2019, the two also met in December of the same year. Chan recalled that Li had called him, stating his plans to travel to the U.S. to “meet some politicians,” but was worried that “after flying over, he might not meet anyone.” At that time, both the “Fight For Freedom. Stand With Hong Kong” team and the “Lam Chau” team were “pulling connections” for him, and Li intended to meet again with Rick Scott, hoping Chan could provide assistance. Li wanted Chan to ask “Mark Simon’s side” if they could help. Additionally, Li knew that Samuel Chu had a particularly good relationship with Jimmy Lai and Mark Simon. Chan said, “I can ask (Mark Simon) for you.”

Chan then called Mark Simon, explaining that Li needed assistance. Mark Simon asked, “What does Andy Li want to achieve on this trip, is there anyone in particular he wants to meet, and does he need help with anything else?” Chan relayed this to Li, who expressed his desire to “meet some officials to explain the situation in Hong Kong and engage in international lobbying,” and considered handing over a sanctions list to U.S. officials because “he didn’t want to go empty-handed.”

Chan then conveyed Li’s thoughts back to Mark Simon, who reassured him that arrangements would be made, and told Chan to assure Li that “he won’t end up meeting no one,” and “at least he will meet Rick Scott.” Mark Simon also planned to make contacts regarding Samuel Chu and encouraged Chan to boost Li’s confidence. Chan relayed Mark Simon’s message to Li to “go ahead and network, keep your spirits up,” and mentioned that it would be easy for Li to “keep in touch” with relevant individuals, aiding his future international lobbying efforts.

Regarding the sanctions list mentioned by Li, Chan claimed that after his trip to the U.S., Li informed him that he used the SWHK version of the list and also sent Chan a link to the sanctions report. Li also told him that he “took some photos with people, met some people, and gave them a sanctions list.”

Judge Alex Lee Wan-tang was curious if it sounded like Li was reporting back to Chan about his trip to the U.S., whether he saw Chan as a friend, or if he intended for Chan to relay this information to others? Chan responded that Li was indeed sharing “what he had done,” and by that time, it was decided that Li would “take on the international front, especially with ‘Lam Chau Pa’ Finn Lau, where they would have a lot of contact and be closely connected on various matters.” Chan did not participate in their international lobbying efforts, so at that time Li was “just telling me what he had done.”

11:27 Court adjourned

11:00 Chan claims Jimmy Lai transferred an offshore company’s ownership to him; Mark Simon once suggested using it for social movements or international publicity

During their first meeting, Chan Tsz-wah mentioned to Mark Simon the difficulties of opening a bank account for an offshore company in Hong Kong. Mark Simon responded, “Actually, I can help you, consider it a reward for yourself.” Chan stated that in a post-district election meeting, they revisited this topic, and Mark Simon mentioned the difficulty of opening accounts for “BVI” (British Virgin Islands) offshore companies, but noted he had two vacant companies at hand. He and Jimmy Lai had discussed transferring one of them to Chan, “the company would come with a local account.” Mark Simon then introduced his assistant to follow up on the company’s ownership change process.

Chan mentioned that ultimately, the company was transferred into his name in early 2020, when he signed the transfer documents at the Next Digital building. The company was named Lacock, and the documents were signed by Jimmy Lai. The prosecution showed Lacock’s bank statement, displaying a balance of HK$80,000 on November 30, 2019. Chan confirmed that when he received the company, there was HK$80,000 in the account. Chan discussed this HK$80,000 with Mark Simon, who instructed, “Return it to him, ask me to take cash to him.” However, Chan noted that he had not repaid it before his arrest.

Chan also mentioned that they discussed how to utilize Lacock; at that time, he wanted to use it for business. Mark Simon suggested it could be used for social movements or international publicity activities. The prosecution asked if Mark Simon had mentioned how it could be used for international lobbying? Chan confirmed he had, noting that because it was a “company with anonymity,” it could be used when contacting different entities overseas. When dealing with overseas entities and needing to make transfers, “If you don’t want to use your own name, then you can use this company, but I told him I probably wouldn’t.”

10:55 Chan: Mark Simon said after the district elections that he and his boss “started to research the primaries” to achieve a major victory in the Legislative Council elections

Chan Tsz-wah continued his testimony about his meeting with Mark Simon after the district elections in November 2019, mentioning that they also discussed the elections. Mark Simon believed that the victory of the “yellow ribbons”—supporters of the anti-extradition movement—was a trend and mentioned that he and his boss had “started to research the primaries, hoping to continue this momentum” to achieve a major victory in the Legislative Council elections.

During the trial concerning the 47 people involved in the primaries, the presiding judge Alex Lee Wan-tang inquired if the meeting between the two had discussed the Legislative Council primaries as early as December 2019. Chan responded that later in January 2020, Jimmy Lai also informed him that he had “gotten a quote from a European company to develop a software for the primaries referendum.”

Regarding Mark Simon’s intentions, he hoped to lobby international governments to take actions to force the Hong Kong government to respond to the citizens’ demands. The prosecution asked if the two had discussed what measures were considered at the time. Chan stated no specific measures were mentioned, with Mark Simon only saying “do something at the international front.”

10:45 Chan: Mark Simon mentioned after the district elections that online platform promotion and international lobbying are more effective than newspaper advertisements

Chan Tsz-wah continued, noting that Mark Simon asked him to provide Andy Li’s bank account number, indicating that he would contact Li directly. Later, Chan learned that Mark Simon had transferred HK$500,000 to Li, “which was a double.” Chan remarked, “Mark Simon never gave me HK$500,000 like that,” and “you’re quite sharp.” Li responded, “This isn’t sharp,” and “another person is even more resourceful,” referring to Wilson Li, who could arrange things like hotel accommodations. Chan said that they did not discuss why Mark Simon would provide an additional HK$250,000 to Andy Li.

Chan also mentioned that after the district elections in November 2019, he met again with Mark Simon at Hyatt Regency Hong Kong in Sha Tin. During this meeting, they discussed the monitoring team’s situation. Mark Simon expressed, “They did very well, this is exactly what they wanted,” and noted that many democrats contact him and “his boss” for financial assistance, but Mark Simon stated, “Just because my boss is very rich doesn’t mean he has to sponsor everyone,” adding that he can decide on small amounts, “but for large amounts, it has to be decided by his boss.”

Chan continued, describing how Mark Simon characterized Andy Li as “always seeking help at the last minute,” and noted that Li “is not very good at dealing with people,” hoping Chan would continue to mediate in the middle. At that time, Mark Simon also suggested that for future publicity work, they should abandon newspaper ads and switch to online platform promotion and international lobbying, which Mark Simon believed “would be more effective,” though he did not specify what type of international lobbying work at that time.

Regarding why they should abandon newspaper ads, Chan recalled Mark Simon stating, “Not everyone reads newspapers,” and that many people were already paying attention to the situation in Hong Kong, so there was no need to attract attention through newspapers. Instead, officials and governments wanted to know more about Hong Kong’s situation, thus the need for international lobbying. The lobbying aimed at the anti-extradition movement hoped that international governments would take measures to force the Hong Kong government to respond to the public’s demands. Chan described that the public’s demands included the withdrawal of the extradition bill amendments and the implementation of dual universal suffrage.

10:20 Chan: Andy Li’s team organized district council election monitoring actions, seeking funding from Mark Simon

The prosecution began by focusing on the situation regarding the “election monitoring team” during the district council elections in November 2019. Chan Tsz-wah indicated that prior to the district elections, Andy Li called him, mentioning that he was organizing a group to monitor the district council elections but noted that he was short of funds by HK$250,000 and asked Chan if he could help. Chan responded that he needed to “think of a way,” and Li then urged Chan, “you ask around.”

Chan mentioned that Li did not specify, but from what he understood, “It seemed like before, he was hinting that I should seek help from Jimmy Lai and Mark Simon.” Chan then contacted Mark Simon, mentioning that Li was planning to organize a district council election monitoring action. Mark Simon appeared “very interested” and asked Chan to provide content and details.

Chan subsequently relayed this to Andy Li, questioning, “Why don’t you contact him directly? You’ve met and exchanged contact details,” but Li simply said, “It’s better if I speak.” Chan recalled that at the time, Li discussed “what he actually wanted to do, and why he was doing it,” mentioning that originally only one MP wanted to come to Hong Kong to observe the elections, but then “their team,” the “Fight For Freedom. Stand With Hong Kong team,” discussed it and decided to “go big, thus they began inviting more MPs to Hong Kong.” Li indicated that some MPs had confirmed their attendance, while others had not yet responded, mentioning MPs from the UK, Australia, Japan, and also attempting to reach out to U.S. congress members, hence the need for an additional HK$250,000 in expenses.

Chan further questioned Li, “The MPs are salaried, right? When they come to Hong Kong to observe the election, what are the expenses?” Chan noted the expenses would include hotels, plane tickets, etc. Chan said he would relay this to Mark Simon, “but it would be better if you had a list, who will be coming, so I can also give it to Mark Simon.” Ultimately, Li provided a list, which Chan then passed on to Mark Simon.

Chan recalled that Mark Simon later called him, inquiring if the list included Lord David Alton from the UK House of Lords. After confirming with Li, Mark Simon stated, “We will strongly support this,” and Chan later learned that the monitoring team was called “EOM.”

10:05 Chan Tsz-wah testifies regarding his understanding of Jimmy Lai’s strategy to combine street, parliamentary, and international efforts.

The prosecution continued to question about the meeting between Chan Tsz-wah and Jimmy Lai on November 27, 2019. Chan stated that Lai mentioned the need to unite street, parliamentary, and international forces “to sustain the momentum of the anti-extradition law movement and to pressure the government to respond to the citizens’ demands.”

Chan added on Wednesday that Lai had expressed his desire to support “local forces,” which Chan interpreted as referring to the “localist camp.” Lai was quoted as saying there was a movement to “start afresh and form a new political party,” though he disagreed with this approach. Chan recalled, “He said that historically, if young people go on to form their own political parties, it would corrupt the social movement.” Lai believed that the focus should remain on the pro-democracy ideology to strive for democracy.

Regarding Lai’s view of combining street, parliamentary, and international forces, the prosecution asked what each of these forces included. Chan described that street forces referred to the protesters and demonstrators on the streets, “I think including the more valiant faction”; parliamentary forces meant district councilors, Legislative Council members, and the 2020 Legislative Council elections; international forces were the “international line,” including those engaged in international lobbying and overseas protesters, who supported the anti-extradition movement as “comrades.” Chan added that Lai wanted to establish a leadership team composed of representatives from “these three sectors.”

10:02 The court session begins

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