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Day 63: April 19, 2024

The Witness: Live Update | Jimmy Lai’s trial Day 63: Chan Tsz-wah: Lai said he wanted to make Finn Lau a political star

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 trial continued for its 63rd day on Friday (19th) at the West Kowloon Magistrates’ Courts, acting as the High Court. The fifth “accomplice witness,” Chan Tsz-wah, testified for the fifth day, continuing to face questions from the prosecution.

Court messages revealed that Lai sent Chan links to Apple Daily articles, which Chan considered as guidance from Lai. Messages also showed that Lai mentioned he would sponsor the travel expenses for Chan and Finn Lau. Chan claimed that during a meeting between Lai and Lau, Lai expressed a desire to develop Lau into a political star, which Lau did not immediately accept, stating “he also did not want to be a political star.”

On Wednesday, Chan claimed that Jimmy Lai wanted to combine street, parliamentary, and international efforts and proposed meeting with “Lam Chau Ba” Finn Lau to discuss this. Chan met Lau in the UK, where Lau was hesitant, but ultimately, after coordination, everyone met in Taipei. Chan also mentioned that Lai “wanted to lead the entire international line.”

The case is presided over by judges Esther Toh Lye-ping, Susana Maria D’Almada Remedios, and Alex Lee Wan-tang under the National Security Law. 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.

16:23 Court adjourned

The case is postponed until next Tuesday (23rd).

16:00 Lai messages Chan mentioning confidential US government information; Chan reflects that the US lacks sufficient grounds for sanctions against Hong Kong

The prosecution displayed a message from April 5, 2020, where Jimmy Lai forwarded a message to Chan Tsz-wah. It mentioned that the US government was very concerned about the expulsion of American journalists from Beijing, Hong Kong, and Macau, which would be a focus in the next “Hong Kong Report.” The current news was about the COVID-19 pandemic and its impact on the US economy. Lai told Chan that this was very confidential and not to share it with others.

Chan stated that after receiving the message from Lai, “I really wanted to forward it to Andy Li and Finn Lau, so I called Jimmy Lai to ask if I could let them know. He said yes, just don’t copy and paste the whole thing to others, but discuss the content with those two.” Chan continued, indicating that the message was from inside the US government and reflected the US government’s stance on sanctions, noting that the US believed there were not sufficient grounds for any sanctions against Hong Kong at that time.

Chan further noted that Finn Lau was “quite upset” after hearing the news, “but he was already working on the Nordic line, and because of the pandemic, it was hard to do anything, but he said he would meet with his team again.” Andy Li had no particular reaction. The prosecution asked how Chan knew Lau was “quite upset.” Chan said it was “apparent in their conversation,” noting that Lau had high expectations of the US government implementing sanctions.

Additionally, Chan claimed that Mark Simon arranged to meet him in May 2020 at the Murray Hotel. Mark Simon said he and Jimmy Lai had already contacted several media companies to co-organize primaries and election forums, “he hoped these would become an electoral tradition that could check the Hong Kong government,” and noted “the US government wants to use voting to check the government, which would be better than violent protests.” They planned to take him and a few other young people to a hearing to push for sanctions against the Hong Kong government.

Chan mentioned that the meeting also discussed crowdfunding, “he hoped we wouldn’t advertise in newspapers anymore, we should focus our resources on international lobbying,” to push for sanctions. Mark Simon also reiterated the four steps of international lobbying that Lai had mentioned in Taipei, “he felt what we were doing was very effective.”

15:38 Messages show Chan and Lai discussing primaries in early 2020, mentioning candidates like Eddie Chu and Joshua Wong

The prosecution also referred to messages between Chan Tsz-wah and Jimmy Lai from February 2020 discussing the primaries. Chan sent a message:

“Alliance: Confirmed plan. They are not bound by primary.

New Territories West: Eddie Chu

New Territories East: Stand Sister (A-lam)

Kowloon East: Joshua Wong (Plan B: Jannelle Rosalynne Leung)

Kowloon West: Sunny

Hong Kong Island: Nathan Law

Super Districts: Lester Shum”

Lai replied: “Thanks. We’ve to work on them. But if the primary has legitimacy, they will have to join. Let’s see.” Chan responded, “I will try my best to work on it. At least not to let them ruin it.”

The prosecution asked what Lai meant by “We need to work on them.” Chan explained in court that it meant hoping to get the listed individuals to participate in the primaries and be bound by the results. The prosecution further asked who Chan referred to by “at least not to let them ruin it.” Chan explained it referred to those opposing or not participating in the primaries, “I think at that time it was referring to the people on the list.”

Judge Esther Toh Lye-ping asked who “Stand Sister” was. Chan identified her as Gwyneth Ho Kwai-lam. The prosecution asked why Chan sent this list to Lai. Chan noted that Lai had first brought up the idea of primaries in late November 2019, and again during the January 2020 trip to Taiwan when meeting with Finn Lau, “hoping for a primary. By February, there started to be some rumors,” thus he forwarded the information he had received to Lai.

Chan continued, believing that there was an understanding or consensus between himself and Jimmy Lai, which should follow the content discussed during the meetings with Lai and Finn Lau in Taiwan, “and personally, I believed that if I could help Jimmy Lai, I would be contributing to the anti-extradition law movement.”

15:13 Chan states that exhibitions like the “G20 Global Newspaper Collection” were sponsored by Jimmy Lai

The prosecution displayed a WhatsApp message from February 1, 2020, between Chan Tsz-wah and Jimmy Lai. Chan sent Lai a press release for “Imagine Hong Kong,” mentioning an ongoing exhibition titled “What I Imagine for Hong Kong After the Revolution,” which also outlined past exhibitions organized by “Imagine Hong Kong,” such as “Stand with Hong Kong at G20 Global Newspaper Collection” in July 2019; and “Stand with Hong Kong at G20 Global Newspaper Collection 2.0” in August.

The prosecution asked if these exhibitions were sponsored by Lai. Chan agreed, stating, “I initially covered the costs, and then Jimmy Lai reimbursed me.” The prosecution asked why Chan sent the press release to Lai. Chan responded, “At that time, I wanted to show him how the promotional efforts were developing.”

14:45 Chan: Andy Li and Finn Lau agree and support following Lai’s actions on the international front

Chan Tsz-wah stated that after meeting with Finn Lau and Andy Li, he made a WhatsApp Call to Jimmy Lai, informing him that Lau and Li agree and support following Lai’s actions on the international front. They also told Lai that Li would “lead on the international front,” but Lai believed that both Lau and Li should “lead on the international front.”

Chan mentioned that he left Taipei on January 13, 2020. Messages from that day show Chan messaging Lai, “We three all safely home,” with Lai replying, “Great! Stay safe!”

The prosecution displayed a message from January 26, where Lai asked Chan if he could call him, and Chan said he could. Lai then mentioned he was having dinner with journalist friends and would call him the next day. Chan confirmed that they spoke the following day, and he informed Lai that Finn Lau did not want to pursue the “parliamentary line” and would “go all out on the international front.” Chan also mentioned that Andy Li was “working on the Japan line,” “but we encountered some problems, mainly difficulty in reaching the ‘behind-the-scenes people,'” prompting Lai to instruct him to seek Mark Simon’s help for the “American line” and “not to rush because it is a long game.”

The prosecution asked what Chan meant by the “Japan line.” Chan explained that it was newly initiated by Andy Li, involving a Japanese legislator and local SWHK (Fight For Freedom. Stand With Hong Kong) members, to sanction Hong Kong officials. Regarding the “American line,” Chan said it was led by Finn Lau, Andy Li, and Shirley Ho, “but they began to have some disagreements with local Hong Kong organizations there, so I wanted Jimmy Lai to mediate at that time.” Upon hearing this, Lai instructed him to contact Mark Simon. Chan then approached him, noting that Li and Lau had “some conflicts” with some Hong Kong organizations in New York, hoping Mark Simon could assist.

The prosecution asked, what were the conflicts? Chan explained that at certain events, there were disputes over which definitions to use because many SWHK members were anonymous, “but overseas organizations like those in New York are not anonymous, so when they meet officials or invite sanctions, a problem arises over whether to put SWHK’s name or other groups’ names on the sanction list.”

Chan noted that Mark Simon called a Hongkonger named “Anna” in New York, “and that roughly resolved the problem. I don’t know how they solved it, but after that, I knew that the entire American line kept in contact with Mark Simon.”

14:32 Chan: After meeting with Shih Ming-teh, discussed roles with Finn Lau and Andy Li

Chan Tsz-wah stated that on January 12, 2020, after meeting with Shih Ming-teh, he and Finn Lau had an online meeting with Andy Li at the hotel, where they informed Li about the key points from their meeting with Jimmy Lai. Chan noted that since Andy Li is one of the leaders of SWHK (Fight For Freedom. Stand With Hong Kong), “if ‘Lam Chau’ (Finn Lau) wants the entire SWHK to follow Jimmy Lai’s direction, he definitely needs Andy Li’s agreement.”

Chan continued, explaining that they agreed with Lai’s assertion that uniting various sectors and understanding international lobbying to push for sanctions was crucial, thus they discussed role division and how to achieve their goals, “especially since ‘Lam Chau’ wanted to ‘burst the bubble’.”

He explained that at the time, they discussed having Finn Lau “work the parliamentary line” and act as a spiritual leader, “to promote the ‘Lam Chau’ narrative and hope to continue to strengthen SWHK.” Andy Li, having had some experience meeting officials abroad, was decided by the group to engage in international lobbying to expand their international connections. As for Chan himself, he would continue to contact the “valiant faction,” “hoping that if there are still protests on the streets, everyone could have a channel of communication with the valiants, and also contact political novices to see if they would participate in the parliamentary line.”

The prosecution asked what Andy Li’s international lobbying entailed. Chan described it as lobbying foreign officials or governments to promote sanction bills or economic blockades. The prosecution also asked, what is the ‘Lam Chau’ narrative? Chan said, at that time, they wanted to convey to the Hong Kong government that “there will be a price if you do not respond to the citizens’ demands. Our slogan at the time was ‘if we burn, you burn with us’,” aiming to push measures to sanction the Hong Kong government.

12:42 Lunch Break

12:30 Chan quotes Shih Ming-teh telling Finn Lau that arrest could garner public support, also mentions “upholding the spirit of sacrifice”

Chan Tsz-wah recalled meeting Shih Ming-teh, during which he introduced Finn Lau as a Hong Kong protester. Shih then discussed his political career and asked Lau for his views on the anti-extradition law movement. Shih Ming-teh advised that if Lau were to engage in mass movements in the future, he must consider three points: credibility, unity, and a clear political demand.

Using the “Red Shirts (Million Voices against Corruption, President Chen Must Go)” and other mass movements as examples, Shih explained that credibility means having public support, positive media coverage and reporting, and crowdfunding; unity refers to the drive of action, meaning the masses should follow the overall command’s direction, “like the color of the shirts, the labels”; and a clear political demand, for which he used the “five demands” as an example.

Chan further noted that Shih Ming-teh mentioned “how to walk the path of a political prisoner, don’t take the chance,” and told Lau, “If you are arrested upon returning to Hong Kong, it’s actually better, as it would not only garner more public support but also support from imprisoned protesters.” The prosecution asked what “taking the chance” meant. Chan said it means “don’t think you can escape.”

The prosecution asked if this was Chan’s understanding? Chan explained that essentially Shih Ming-teh was telling Lau, “What you are doing now will definitely have consequences, don’t think you can avoid these consequences.” Judge Alex Lee Wan-tang then asked if Shih’s comment, “If you are arrested upon returning to Hong Kong, it’s actually better,” was related to “taking chances.” Chan agreed, noting that at the time, Lau still wanted to remain an anonymous protester or an overseas protester and also agreed that Lau was avoiding coming to Hong Kong.

Judge Susana Maria D’Almada Remedios asked why Shih would say that Lau would definitely be arrested if he came to Hong Kong? Chan said that Shih did not claim that Lau would definitely be arrested if he came to Hong Kong, “He said ‘If you are arrested in Hong Kong, it would be better.’ Of course, later I found out that Lau had been arrested in Hong Kong for other reasons, but at that time I didn’t know, it wasn’t mentioned by anyone.”

Chan pointed out that Shih Ming-teh also encouraged Lau, “to uphold the spirit of sacrifice, you cannot avoid sacrificing yourself while asking others to do things.”

12:14 Chan: Met with Shih Ming-teh alongside Finn Lau

Regarding Chan Tsz-wah’s claim that Jimmy Lai mentioned the importance of knowing “behind-the-scenes people” to conduct international lobbying to push anti-China policies, such as economic blockades and sanctions, the prosecution asked how Lai mentioned economic blockades. Chan noted that Lai said, “Pan-democrats have also previously proposed removing some of Hong Kong’s special status.”

As for the dinner on the evening of January 11, 2020, with Lee Wing-tat and his wife, Albert Ho Chun-yan and his wife, and Shih Ming-teh and his wife, Chan said the conversation that night revolved around the Taiwan elections.

The prosecution showed that the same evening, Lai messaged Chan saying, “My driver will come to your hotel to pick you up,” asking if this meant he would be picked up the next day. Chan agreed, and the next day, he and Finn Lau went to Shih Ming-teh’s office to meet with him, where Shih Ming-teh’s wife was also present, but Lai did not attend. Chan also mentioned that after meeting them, Shih said, “If it wasn’t for Jimmy Lai’s introduction, I wouldn’t meet with you.”

11:25 Court adjourned

11:20 Chan claims Lai mentioned primaries during meeting with Finn Lau; judge inquires further

The prosecution asked what else was discussed during the meeting on January 11, 2020, besides the concept of “bubble burst.” Chan Tsz-wah recalled that Jimmy Lai also mentioned the 2020 Legislative Council election primaries. Lai had planned to ask Finn Lau whether he would consider running and mentioned that he would assist political novices in “gaining media exposure” and financially support them. Upon hearing this, Judge Alex Lee Wan-tang inquired if there had already been proposals for conducting primaries in society at that time. Chan stated that as far as he knew, there were none, and confirmed that Lai first proposed the idea of primaries in November 2019.

Regarding the content of the January 2020 meeting in Taipei, Chan continued, saying that Lai expressed a desire to “learn from the American model” and had obtained a quote from a European company that mainly develops voting software, “tens of thousands, not expensive.” Chan mentioned that the amount should be in euros, and that the software only required a mobile phone number for registration, making it difficult to verify voter identities and thus compromising the credibility of the results, so Lai only considered it. The prosecution further asked if Lai mentioned where the funding for the primaries might come from. Chan indicated that Lai expressed he would provide financial support and had also sponsored the “ThunderGo Plan.”

11:00 Chan: Lai mentioned four steps for international lobbying, doubts his generation can achieve the overthrow of the CCP

Regarding Chan Tsz-wah’s claim that Jimmy Lai mentioned the importance of knowing “behind-the-scenes people,” the prosecution asked how this would be useful. Chan said it could facilitate international lobbying against China, such as economic blockades and sanctions. Chan added, “Then Jimmy Lai said that in the long run, we should seek international recognition, then they can impose embargoes, sanctions, and pressure governments. And we need to unite different sectors, plus civil power, to achieve ‘bubble burst.'”

Chan explained that civil power means “there must be public grievances.” When asked what ‘bubble burst’ means, Chan said it refers to economic and political collapse. The prosecution also asked what “uniting different sectors” means. Chan understood it to include the parliament, overseas organizations, street power, international lines, and businessmen, “He said because many businessmen are very dissatisfied.”

Finn Lau was said to be “very pessimistic,” “He doesn’t believe it’s really possible to achieve ‘bubble burst’.” Lai claimed, “Based on historical experience, bubble burst will happen soon,” because the Chinese government uses many resources to monitor its people, like during the Ming Dynasty, “He said even if ‘bubble burst’ happens, China’s GDP would still be about 60%, and that would be the best time to introduce American democracy.” He also told Lau to make good use of his resources, “Make good use of the support from the Lam Chau team,” to promote sanctions against the Chinese and Hong Kong governments.

When asked if Lai mentioned how to achieve this goal, Chan said Lai remarked that international lobbying “isn’t like what you guys do,” and proposed four steps: first, make foreign governments aware of what’s happening in Hong Kong, then urge them to condemn and pay attention to the events, afterwards bring back foreign “behind-the-scenes people” or foreign government ideas to Hong Kong, because only by doing this, “Hong Kong people will know that foreign governments haven’t abandoned or ignored them, and it can maintain everyone’s morale.” Lastly, the relationships built with “behind-the-scenes people” can influence their China policies, “can push for sanctions, and even eventually overthrow the CCP.”

Chan recalled, “Jimmy Lai said his generation might not achieve this, he hopes Finn Lau’s Lam Chau team and these young people can take over.” Lau replied that he personally was willing to cooperate and agreed with this broad direction, but as for the “Lam Chau team,” he needed to discuss with “rip,” and Chan informed Lai that “rip” is Andy Li.

10:46 Chan: Lai wanted to cultivate Finn Lau as a political star, but Lau was not interested

The prosecution questioned the lunch meeting on January 11, 2020, at Jimmy Lai’s villa with Chan Tsz-wah, Finn Lau, and a protester surnamed Lam. Chan recalled that during the meeting, introductions were made, mentioning that the protester surnamed Lam could contact the “valiant faction,” while Finn Lau had founded the “Lam Chau team” in the UK, initiating crowdfunding, election monitoring, and later collaborated with the G20 team. Chan added that they had traveled to the US in December 2019, and Lau mentioned that they had also organized rallies and marches in Germany and Edinburgh.

Chan continued, stating that Lai asked Lau why the scale of the crowdfunding was so large, and during their analysis, they concluded that many overseas Hongkongers and organizations helped, “which made the crowdfunding very quick.” Lai further inquired if Lau had joined the trip to the US. Lau said no, and Chan clarified that “the one who went was Andy.” Lai then asked Lau about the challenges he faced in his work, “Jimmy Lai said he wanted to cultivate him as a political star, could support him with ‘ten thousand pounds’ in his personal life, and could provide him with political and financial connections.”

Chan noted that Lau did not immediately accept and “also did not want to be a political star.” Subsequently, Lai mentioned the December trip to the US, “Jimmy Lai felt it shouldn’t be like this,” because the “old democrats” could already introduce them to the people they would meet in the US, “no need to waste these resources, it’s important to know more behind-the-scenes people, not just keep meeting front-facing people like Rick Scott, Ted Cruz, Todd Young, whom the old pan-democrats already have connections with.”

The prosecution asked what Lai meant by “behind-the-scenes people.” Chan explained that Lai referred to political advisors or those planning national policies. When asked if Lai mentioned the purpose of contacting these “behind-the-scenes people,” Chan stated that Lai had said, “There are some officials in very low positions who might know democracy activists and democrats from when everyone was young. Ten years, twenty years later, this low-rank official becomes a high-rank official, and such relationships are very useful,” citing examples like former Chief Secretary for Administration Anson Chan and former Speaker of the U.S. House of Representatives Nancy Pelosi.

10:38 Messages show Jimmy Lai told Chan Tsz-wah he would fund travel expenses

The prosecution continued to display messages from January 9, 2020, which showed Chan Tsz-wah messaging Jimmy Lai, “I am sorry to bother but I would like to know if our travels can be covered because I would then head down to the Southern part to meet other groups and set up something there.” Lai replied, “All covered.”

The prosecution asked what Chan meant by “other groups.” Chan said these were other organizations in Taiwan, supporters of the anti-extradition law movement, with whom he hoped to exchange ideas. The prosecution also asked what Lai meant by “All covered.” Chan explained that this referred to covering the travel and accommodation expenses for himself, Finn Lau, and a protester surnamed Lam.

Messages from January 10 show Chan telling Lai, “Hi Jimmy, he is arriving in Taipei tomorrow morning.” The prosecution asked who Chan was referring to as “he.” Chan said it was Finn Lau. The messages continued to show that Lai proposed that after having dinner with Shih Ming-teh, if they still wanted to meet him, they could go to Shih’s place the next day for further discussion. The prosecution asked if Finn Lau ultimately met with Shih Ming-teh. Chan confirmed that he did.

10:24 Chan Tsz-wah: Views article sent by Lai as guidance

In court, messages showed that on January 8, 2020, Jimmy Lai sent Chan Tsz-wah a link to an article from Apple Daily titled “【Online Forum】Advice from a Friend (Luke de Pulford).” Chan replied, “I read it yesterday which helps me persuade the rest of the stubborn leaders.”

Judge Esther Toh Lye-ping asked, “Who are the ‘other stubborn leaders’?” Chan explained that they were people on the international front who wanted to promote more radical ideas and members of the “valiant faction.” The prosecution asked why Chan needed to persuade these stubborn leaders. Chan stated that after meeting with Lai, “He hoped I could convey messages to the young people not to vie for international narrative control but to unite against the Hong Kong government.”

Chan also mentioned that he did not know Luke de Pulford at the time, but became aware of him during May to June of the same year while discussing the Inter-Parliamentary Alliance on China (IPAC) with Andy Li. He pointed out that the article reflected de Pulford’s ideas that there should be a relatively unified voice on the international front, “So I took the link, this article that Jimmy Lai sent to me, as his guidance on how to persuade others.”

10:06 Chan Tsz-wah: Did not know the real name of ‘Lam Chau Pa’ at first meeting

The prosecution asked about Chan Tsz-wah’s trip to Taipei from January 10 to 12, 2020, to meet with Jimmy Lai. Chan testified on Wednesday (17th) that he and a woman surnamed Lam (林) were driven to Yangmingshan to meet Lai at his villa, where ‘Lam Chau Pa’ Finn Lau was also present. Chan mentioned that they were ultimately unable to observe the Taiwan presidential election and only watched it on TV at Lai’s residence. The third day’s schedule included a meeting with Shih Ming-teh, with Finn Lau and the woman surnamed Lam also participating, followed by a return to the hotel for a meeting.

On Friday, the prosecution displayed a WhatsApp message from January 6, 2020, between Chan and Lai, where Lai had arranged for Taiwanese social activist Shih Ming-teh to have dinner at his residence on January 11, “Maybe if our friend is in Taipei he can join us too.” The prosecution asked, “Who is ‘our friend’?” Chan identified him as ‘Lam Chau Pa’ Finn Lau, but did not know why Lai described him as “our friend.”

Judge Alex Lee Wan-tang asked if Chan knew the real name of ‘Lam Chau Pa’ Finn Lau when he first met him. Chan said he did not know and had not mentioned ‘Lam Chau Pa’s’ real name to Lai before the trip to Taipei. He only learned his real name when he gave Finn Lau’s information to Mark Simon for booking the flight.

Chan added that he had noticed Finn Lau on social media, “He said he is ‘Lam Chau Pa’.” Judge Alex Lee Wan-tang asked when he noticed this, before or after January? Chan responded, “I really don’t remember when, I only knew about it after he was attacked in London.”

10:04 Court commenced.

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