Self-exiled Hong Kong opposition lawmaker Ted Hui called on regulators to investigate major banks including HSBC for freezing his accounts and those of his wife and parents.
Hui is the latest pro-democracy figure to leave Hong Kong amid the escalating crackdown on dissent, which human rights groups say amounts to “repression”.
On Monday Dec. 08, eight people were reportedly arrested by Hong Kong national security police over a small and peaceful student rally at the Chinese University of Hong Kong (CUHK) last month.
Three were arrested on suspicion of inciting secession, which can carry a maximum sentence of life in prison under a tough new security law.
In recent weeks activists Joshua Wong, Agnes Chow, and Ivan Lam were jailed, and China’s vocal critic Jimmy Lai has been denied bail over fraud charges.
Hui left Hong Kong for Denmark last week, before announcing that he and his family would not return to the Chinese controlled city. The family are now in the UK, where they plan to live in exile.
Over the weekend he revealed that bank accounts belonging to him and his family had been frozen, which he labelled “political retaliation through economic oppression”.
Hui told Danish media he faced serious consequences, including lengthy prison terms, if he returned to Hong Kong and was convicted under the national security law.
Following an outcry, Hui said his family’s accounts were partially unfrozen late on Sunday. He said the family were moving funds to other institutions “because of their complete distrust in HSBC”.
On Monday, the HSBC accounts were frozen again, under police orders.
Steve Li, the senior superintendent of the Hong Kong police force’s national security department, said police were investigating suspected violations of the national security law, and they had sought assistance from unnamed banks to freeze funds related to a crowdfunding operation tied to Hui.
“We found out that there were about HK$850,000 … being pocketed by [Hui] and through some of the accounts owned by him and his relatives,” Li alleged.
Police also said Hui was also suspected of “foreign collusion” over social media posts in recent days seeking international support for Hong Kong. The same accusation has been levelled against several pro-democracy activists but so far without charges being brought.
Hui denied misuse of the crowd sourced funds, which were raised to launch private prosecutions including against the police. He said the funds were deposited into a lawyer’s account and posted an audit of the funds on Facebook.
Contacted for a response to Hui’s allegations, an HSBC spokeswoman referred the Guardian to the police statement. Earlier on Monday, a spokesman for the company had told other media the bank would not comment on individual cases but that the circumstances had been “misrepresented”.
An HSBC spokeswoman told Reuters. “We have to abide by the laws of the jurisdiction in which we operate.”
Hui called on HSBC to clarify its comments about misrepresentation, saying his family had made complaints and kept records of dealings with the bank. “Under the national security law, how much are the banks and the business sector willing to sacrifice for the service of the regime?” he asked.
Hui earlier said the asset freezings reflected what banks could do “as a result of political pressure”, and this affected the credibility of Hong Kong as an international banking and finance hub. On Monday, the finance secretary, Paul Chan, rejected the assertion, saying Hong Kong remained “robust”. The Hang Sen index dropped more than 2% at Monday’s opening.
Johnny Patterson, the policy director at UK-based Hong Kong Watch, said the freezing of Hui’s accounts was “utterly unacceptable” and he accused HSBC of bowing to Beijing’s strategy of economic coercion.
“It forms part of the Chinese communist party’s alarming strategy to eradicate dissent in Hong Kong using every lever available from asset freezes to trumped up lawsuits. The British government should seriously consider applying sanctions in response.” (Sources: BBC/The Guardian)