Jimmy Lai loses High Court fight over voting rights

The High Court on Friday rejected a request by jailed media tycoon and national security suspect Jimmy Lai to restore his voting rights as the major shareholder of Next Digital.

In May, the authorities froze Lai’s personal assets and his 71 percent stake in Next Digital, also banning him from exercising his voting rights.

Lawyers for the founder of the now-defunct Apple Daily newspaper argued that allowing Lai to vote would enable the company to be wound-up smoothly and would not involve him dealing with his assets.

But lawyers representing the government warned that giving Lai his voting rights back could endanger national security.

They said company assets could be transferred out of Hong Kong, or Lai could instruct others to control the company and provide funds to people planning to endanger national security.

In his ruling, judge Anthony Chan said it would make little sense to just freeze the shares, but not ban the voting rights attached to the shares.

He said the freezing order was aimed at preventing the use of assets to finance or assist in national security offences, as well preventing any dealings which may prejudice an investigation or proceedings.

“It is reasonably clear … that one of the purposes of a freezing notice is to preserve the property in question so that a confiscation or forfeiture order may be obtained in the future,” the judge said.

“Unrestricted exercise of voting rights by Lai may result in depletion of the company’s assets, which will in turn diminish the value of the shares which may be subject to a confiscation or forfeiture order in the future.”

The judge noted that Lai could still apply to the security secretary to be allowed to exercise his voting rights.

Lai is serving time in prison over protest-related charges and also faces multiple charges under the national security law.