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Day 65: April 24, 2024

The Witness: Live Update | Jimmy Lai’s Trial Day 65 Chan Tsz-wah: I was Concerned about the risk of Li being arrested, wanted to take over his contacts

The founder of Next Digital, Jimmy Lai, and three related companies of Apple Daily, are charged with crimes including “conspiracy to collude with foreign forces.” The trial continued on Wednesday (24th) at the West Kowloon Magistrates’ Courts (acting as the High Court) for its 65th day. The fifth accomplice witness, Chan Tsz-wah, testified for the seventh day under cross-examination by the prosecution.

Chan stated that after the implementation of the National Security Law, he felt that Andy Li had violated the law and should leave Hong Kong, hence he hoped to take over his local contacts. However, Li was “very stubborn” and did not want to leave Hong Kong, and Chan learned of his arrest in August 2020 through the news.

He also mentioned that in the same month, he had hoped Li would help him contact a U.S. Consulate staff member, Alan Brinker, describing him as somewhat of an “under-the-table person,” and “Jimmy Lai taught us that we need to understand the thinking of foreign governments and establish relationships with these ‘under-the-table people.'”

The case is presided over by High Court judges designated under the National Security Law, 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 Prosecutor Crystal Chan Wing-sum; Jimmy Lai is represented by Senior Counsel Robert Pang Yiu-hung, Barrister Steven Kwan, and Marc Corlett, a New Zealand barrister with practicing qualifications in Hong Kong.

15:16 Court adjourns 

15:00 Chan: After arrest, Mark Simon said he and Lai will provide legal support

Chan confirmed that a few days after his bail on October 10, 2020, he called Mark Simon, who assured him not to worry, saying, “He said that he and Jimmy Lai would arrange support for you in all aspects and would also arrange a backup plan for you in the US.” He also quoted Mark Simon saying that he would continue to inquire about his case through channels in the US and Taiwan, “Telling me not to do anything but to be mentally prepared to be arrested again under the National Security Law, and not to worry,” and instructed Chan to continue international lobbying and other democratic activities to promote sanctions.

The prosecution asked if Mark Simon meant that he and Jimmy Lai were arranging support in various aspects? Chan agreed, “The word he used was ‘We’.” The prosecution asked, what kind of support? Chan said it specifically referred to legal support, and he had no reaction upon hearing this news.

Additionally, Chan said he spoke with Mark Simon in November 2020, who had hired a writer to write a piece in Apple Daily about a presidential candidate Biden’s son doing business in China, which later turned out to be false, “So in the US, it could be seen as interfering in the election, possibly leading to an FBI investigation, and losing favor with the Democrats.” Mark Simon said that after consulting with Jimmy Lai, to avoid affecting Next Digital’s interests, “He would resign to preserve Next Digital.”

Chan added that Mark Simon would continue to manage Lai’s business in the US and Taiwan, “So he told me not to worry about him, and if I wanted to contact Jimmy Lai, I could still do so through him.”

Prosecutor Anthony Chau Tin-hang indicated he was nearly done with the main questioning but requested a delay to review the evidence before summarizing. Judge Alex Lee Wan-tang inquired about the case’s progress, and the prosecution mentioned that they would soon call another key witness and an expert witness, and revealed that their questioning would be relatively brief, followed by calling 8 to 10 police witnesses. The prosecution will discuss the number of police witnesses with the defense.

14:43 Prosecution inquires about SWHK’s Japan and UK lines

The prosecution focused on SWHK’s Japan line, with Chan stating that after the implementation of the National Security Law, Li informed him of helping Japanese legislator Shiori Yamao establish the “Japan Parliamentary Alliance on China Policy” (JPAC). They aimed to promote the Magnitsky Act and implement a “lifeboat policy.” Chan explained that this was similar to Hong Kong’s “Safe Harbor Act,” intended to provide refuge for Hong Kong’s political prisoners or allow Hong Kong protesters, although not yet convicted, to reside in Japan.

Chan mentioned that JPAC believed the National Security Law violated human rights, and “with Magnitsky, the Japanese government would have a basis to sanction related officials.” He also mentioned that Li suddenly tasked him with due diligence on a Hong Konger in Japan, “At that time, Andy Li said that on the Japan line, someone claimed to be anti-China and wanted to help. But Li felt something was off, so he asked me to see if Mark Simon could help,” i.e., if Mark Simon had heard of this person.

Additionally, the prosecution asked about the UK line, mentioning that Finn Lau, along with the UK Parliamentary All-Party Group on Hong Kong (APPG), wrote a report on the situation after the National Security Law. Luke de Pulford continued to handle IPAC, while the “Lam Chau Team” assisted him with IPAC tasks.

12:41 Lunch break

12:32 SWHK hired a pro-Democratic Party political consultancy on Mark Simon’s advice to reach out to Democratic Party officials

Chan described that at the time, members of SWHK’s US line followed Mark Simon’s advice to select a political consultancy with a Democratic Party background, more “pro-Democratic Party,” to then reach out to Democratic Party officials or “under-the-table” contacts to push for sanctions. Chan noted that to his knowledge, they eventually succeeded in making contact with relevant individuals, though he was unclear who exactly, but at the time, member Shirley Ho messaged that they had “met with some officials” through the political consultancy.

Additionally, Chan continued, members of the US line also contacted policy commentators after the implementation of the National Security Law, reminding them that the situation in Hong Kong could threaten American interests in Hong Kong, potentially causing Americans to support sanctions or unfavorable economic policies more easily. Chan added that policy commentators could write reports related to economic policies, primarily discussing how the implementation of the National Security Law could affect American interests in Hong Kong.

12:18 Chan: Mark Simon says he and Jimmy Lai lean towards the US Republicans over Democrats

Chan mentioned that before his arrest, Mark Simon had discussed SWHK’s US line. Mark Simon explained the differences between the Democratic and Republican parties, also noting his and Jimmy Lai’s stance, stating they lean more towards the Republicans, “because they believe the Republicans have more consistent anti-China policies and will continue to introduce sanctions.”

Regarding the Democrats, Mark Simon said they tend to cooperate with China on issues like climate, environment, and economy, “which is disadvantageous for achieving our goal of ‘bubble Burst’.” Mark Simon also explained why they hire political consultants, as Republican members often have business backgrounds, making it feasible to “afford political consultants” to meet with Republican members and officials. Chan quoted Mark Simon mentioning that Jimmy Lai had once paid for a political consultant to meet with former Vice President Pence.

He continued, Mark Simon thinks the Democrats “want to see new faces, not wanting to meet with ‘Demosisto’ or former student leaders again,” and since SWHK is a grassroots organization formed by Hongkongers and a new entity, “it fits well with what the Democrats are looking for.”

Chan also discovered in the US line TG group that Shirley Ho is the person in charge, and they report regularly, almost weekly, to Mark Simon about the US line’s activities. Judge Esther Toh asked if SWHK members report within the group. Chan stated that members do not report in the group, “sometimes the meeting includes the political consultant, sometimes it doesn’t.”

Judge Alex Lee asked if Mark Simon was still in Hong Kong at the time. Chan stated that he had already left Hong Kong. Lee further inquired whether the meetings with the political consultant were in-person or online. Chan said he wasn’t sure and also did not know when Mark Simon had left Hong Kong.

11:59 Chan: Mark Simon says both he and Jimmy Lai believe Lai’s arrest is “a good thing”

The prosecution asked Chan how he obtained the approval of Jimmy Lai and Mark Simon to join the US line TG group. Chan mentioned that around June to July 2020, he called Mark Simon via Signal Call, who said he would handle it. “Later, when I contacted Finn Lau again, he said that since Mark Simon and Jimmy Lai agreed, no one objected.” Chan also confirmed that after the National Security Law took effect, he joined the SWHK US line.

Chan further stated that he communicated with Mark Simon via Signal Call in mid-August 2020, after the arrests of Jimmy Lai and Andy Li. He said that Mark Simon, after discussing with Jimmy Lai, believed that Lai’s arrest was “a good thing” because “it would draw more attention and increase the sales of Apple Daily.” Defense attorney Marc Corlett clarified that this information was conveyed by Mark Simon, not directly by Jimmy Lai to Chan. Judge Esther Toh noted that this is hearsay evidence.

Chan continued, discussing concerns about Andy Li’s actions, including IPAC, “because we were worried that Andy Li’s arrest would affect IPAC, especially since he had organized a petition against the National Security Law, which was very prominent.” They were also worried about how his arrest might impact SWHK’s operations. Mark Simon reassured Chan not to worry, saying “if it comes to SWHK, they had a plan B,” which involved Finn Lau giving lectures at American universities, which was of interest to students there, “then to continue promoting the Lam Chau discourse and push for sanctions.”

The prosecution asked how the lecture tour was related to sanctions. Chan said, “Suddenly, there was one less person charging in front,” and if Finn Lau could give lectures in the US, “it would make it easier for Americans to accept anti-China policies.” The prosecution asked if Mark Simon had ever mentioned why universities were the target. Chan said he did not specify why exactly universities, “just said it would be easier to arrange and wanted to attract more attention.”

11:19 Break

10:56 Chan confirms continued contact with Mark Simon after the National Security Law

The prosecution asked if Chan continued to contact Mark Simon after the National Security Law was enacted. Chan confirmed that they communicated at least once a week via Signal Call. During June to August 2020, Chan informed Mark Simon that “Lam Chau mentioned adding me to the US line (TG group) is difficult because they already have fixed members,” but if he got the approval from Mark Simon and Jimmy Lai, “then I and (Lam Chau) can speak much more easily.”

Chan added that he was new to other SWHK members because he was not in other SWHK groups and could not actively participate; he mentioned that other members had already cooperated during global newspaper publicity campaigns. Later, with the support and agreement of Mark Simon and Jimmy Lai, he successfully joined the group, although this also made a user named “Madison” feel that “my relationship with Jimmy Lai is very close.”

Additionally, the prosecution asked about what else was discussed with Andy Li and Jimmy Lai before their arrest in August 2020, besides joining the US line TG group. Chan mentioned that they also discussed IPAC. Mark Simon told him that when IPAC was being formed, they approached Nancy Pelosi, the then-Speaker of the US House of Representatives. Pelosi consulted with Martin Lee, the founding chairman of the Democratic Party, who advised against joining.

Chan continued, saying Mark Simon thought it was a pity because he considered IPAC very important and hoped Chan would strongly support it. He quoted Mark Simon saying he knew that it was Andy Li who had been implementing and practicing the initiatives, “so he felt it was right for Andy Li to leave Hong Kong.”

When asked what Martin Lee’s advice not to join meant, Chan explained that before IPAC was established, its founder, Luke de Pulford, had already begun recruiting influential political figures. Mentioning Pelosi was meant to relay insider information, “I think he wanted to show that the scale of IPAC could be much larger.”

The prosecution also asked if Chan and Mark Simon had discussed why he wanted to join the SWHK US line. Chan indicated that he wanted to “actively contribute to the international front” and that Mark Simon had plans to take him and other young people to the US for hearings, but the trip was prevented by the pandemic. “So, if I joined the US line, I could make a difference.”

Lastly, the prosecution asked about the purpose of attending the hearings. Chan stated they were intended to discuss the situation in Hong Kong, the demands of protesters, and, if possible, to advocate for sanctions, reaffirming that this had been discussed during his meeting with Mark Simon at The Murray Hotel in May 2020.

10:46 Chan: Jimmy Lai’s American connections could help SWHK push for sanctions

In response to Chan’s message about “Some businessmen and politicians are cutting ties with Jim,” the prosecution asked who “Jim” referred to. Chan answered that it was Jimmy Lai, but he did not know who the “businessmen” mentioned in the message were. Regarding the “politicians” Chan mentioned, he explained, “At that time, this phrase was told to me by Mark Simon during a phone call. I didn’t ask; it felt like a tree had fallen and the monkeys scattered, so I sent the message to Andy Li because I didn’t want him to get into trouble.”

Chan noted that when Jimmy Lai was arrested, “many who had said they would support him were cutting ties. Mark Simon said that it was a tough and difficult time.” He explained, “Without Jimmy Lai, we wouldn’t be able to know about internal information from the US government or maintain political connections in the US or elsewhere.” This unity, once strong on the international front, “might not be as unified afterwards, so it was a significant blow for us at that time.”

The prosecution asked how Lai’s political connections related to the international line. Chan stated, “Jimmy Lai’s political connections in the US could help SWHK push for sanctions and also save a lot of resources for SWHK.”

10:35 Chan: Andy Li “very stubborn” wants to stay in Hong Kong

The prosecution displayed a Signal message from August 10, 2020, between Chan and Li, where Chan said, “Brother/You know As a leader/I have to be the last one standing/走走走,我若離開/誰來帶隊” “Brother, leave me here – we can’t afford one more loss on the international line”, and “Some businessmen and politicians are cutting ties with Jim.”

The prosecution asked why Chan referred to himself “as a leader.” Chan responded, “Because at that time, we all believed ourselves to be leaders within our leadership team.” Chan explained that “we” referred to members of SWHK, noting that within SWHK, many people were involved, but “we were a few of the more active ones,” such as Andy Li, Finn Lau, and Shirley Ho, each leading SWHK’s international efforts.

Chan mentioned that during late July to early August 2020, he discussed with Andy Li that once Li left Hong Kong, Chan would take his place in Hong Kong, thus he felt that way about himself. Chan stated that he had consulted with Shirley Ho from the US line, who had tried various methods to move Andy Li out of Hong Kong, including finding him a job in the US, “and also gave many other reasons, but Andy Li just wouldn’t leave Hong Kong.”

He continued, based on his understanding with Li, “I should be the last one left in Hong Kong, so I was persuading him (Andy Li) to leave Hong Kong. After I sent this message to him, I found out from the news that he had been arrested.” The prosecution asked why Chan wanted to take over Li’s responsibilities. Chan answered, “Because if there’s no one in Hong Kong, it’s very hard to grasp the situation there,” and “if I didn’t say it that way, he wouldn’t leave at all.”

Chan also mentioned that he told Mark Simon that Andy Li was “very stubborn” about staying in Hong Kong, and he wanted to join the US line’s TG group and that Li had asked him to “chase back about twenty thousand US dollars” from Mark Simon. The prosecution asked what the twenty thousand dollars was about. Chan explained it was related to a global newspaper advertising crowdfunding campaign by SWHK, initially processed through Mark Simon’s account, and later Li found there was a discrepancy in the funds provided to SWHK, “He chased him (Mark Simon) a couple of times, and he said it was a currency exchange issue.”

10:25 Chan: Lai taught us to understand foreign government perspectives

The prosecution asked what Chan meant by “new opinions from the U.S. side.” Chan explained that many SWHK members wanted to confirm that the U.S. government would take a tougher stance on “DQ,” expecting to see measures like sanctions. Chan continued, since Andy Li had met with U.S. Senator Rick Scott in September 2019 and had seen Alan Brinker, “when it was possible to ask someone from the U.S. consulate, the first person I thought of was him (Andy Li).”

Judge Alex Lee Wan-tang asked the prosecution, although the court can use “judicial notice,” does the witness need to explain the meaning of “DQ”? The prosecution then asked Chan what “DQ” was. Chan explained it refers to the disqualification of candidates from the Legislative Council elections.

The prosecution asked  what information Chan hoped to obtain from Alan Brinker. Chan said, “The stance of the U.S. government, or at least the U.S. Consulate’s stance on DQ and similar events.” Chan added, “Jimmy Lai taught us that we need to understand the thoughts of foreign governments and establish relationships with ‘under-the-table’ figures.” Chan believed Alan Brinker was “somewhat an ‘under-the-table’ person, so his firsthand information became very important for us.”

10:08 Chan: Concerned about risk of Li being arrested, wanted to take over his connections

The prosecution continued to ask about the meeting between Jimmy Lai and Chan Tsz-wah on June 16, 2020. Regarding Chan’s previous testimony on Tuesday (23rd) during the meeting, he mentioned to Lai that “it’s already difficult to continue promotion,” the prosecution asked why he said this. Chan stated, “Because at that time, the National Security Law was about to be enacted, and many members involved in promotion had left the Telegram group.”

Regarding Lai’s remark that IPAC (Inter-Parliamentary Alliance on China) was very important, the prosecution asked if the two had mentioned this again later? Chan said he had no recollection.

The prosecution displayed a Signal message from August 3, 2020, between Chan and Andy Li, in which Chan asked Li, “Also could you help to liaise with Alan Brinker? Like have a chat with him again?” Li replied, “not sure whether he’s still in HK.”

Chan urged Li to “try try,” and Li responded, “I need a reason too, what is the chat for and why should he join the call.” Chan then said, “I think we should talk about the DQs and the overseas government?” Li replied, “they aren’t uninformed on that.”

The prosecution asked, who is Alan Brinker? Chan explained that he was a staff member at the U.S. Consulate, and at that time, he wanted Andy Li to introduce him to his contacts in Hong Kong. The prosecution asked why Chan wanted to do this? Because there were discussions or voices within SWHK (Stand With Hong Kong team), hoping that Andy Li would leave Hong Kong first, and at that time, Chan felt that he should start taking over his contacts. Moreover, everyone wanted to know if “the U.S. side had any new opinions, or perspectives on the DQ at that time.”

The prosecution asked, what discussions were there? Chan said that around July 2020, “Lam Chau” Finn Lau told him that Andy Li had already conducted several fundraisings, “He has a lot of other members’ banking information. If he gets arrested, it would pose a risk for the entire SWHK.” Furthermore, since Li had joined IPAC, exposed issues at the United Nations, visited the U.S. (for lobbying), and prominently organized election monitoring, “so at that time, we believed he had already violated the National Security Law.”

10:05 Court session begins.

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