Timing of ‘Long Hair’ Leung Kwok-hung’s Arrest Raises Questions

Photo Credit: ALEX HOFFORD / EPA / 達志影像
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The arrest and charging today of “Long Hair” Leung Kwok-hung (梁國雄), a lawmaker with Hong Kong’s League of Social Democrats, on one count of misconduct in public office relating to an alleged HK$250,000 (US$32,000) payment received in 2012 has raised suspicions of political interference less than a month before the registration period for the Legislative Council elections in September.

Leung, a thorn in the side of pro-Beijing interests in Hong Kong, is accused of failing to declare the payment, allegedly made by Next Media founder Jimmy Lai (黎智英), another Beijing critic, on May 22, 2012. According to the territory’s Independent Commission Against Corruption, Mark Simon, Lai’s assistant, handled the alleged payment.

The 60-year-old lawmaker is set to appear at the Eastern Court at 9.30 am tomorrow.

Leung told the South China Morning Post that Leung said that officers from the commission visited him at his home at about 6:30 this morning and escorted him to their headquarters.

The ICAC’s zeroing in on Leung, who was cleared of wrongdoing late last year after similar accusations were made against him pertaining to two payments of HK$500,000 from Lai in 2013 and 2014 (the committee ruled that the payments were made to the League of Social Democrats and not to Leung), has encouraged speculation that the constant targeting may be politically motivated.

“The ICAC came to my home to collect evidence two years ago, but only arrested and charged me today. You can ask the ICAC, but even the blind can see what’s going on,” he told the SCMP.

Leung says the latest legal challenge may constitute an attempt by the authorities to tarnish his image with the public ahead of the LegCo elections in September. Another side effect of the constant court appearances and harassment by the authorities is that those will tie up legislators and activists and undermine their campaigns against the pro-Beijing establishment.

Leung has yet to confirm whether he intends to run in September.

In recent years Lai and Simon have also been the object of intense scrutiny by the ICAC after pro-Beijing groups alleged that Lai had donated more than HK$10 million to pan-democratic parties. In 2014, Beijing and its supporters in Hong Kong launched what Simon called a “relentless smear campaign” after he was accused working as a CIA agent to destabilize the territory during the Occupy movement. Accusations that “foreign forces” are conspiring to cause trouble in China is a common trope used by Beijing to discredit its critics (another authoritarian leader, Vladimir Putin, has resorted to similar tactics to counter his opponents). Martin Lee (李柱銘), the founder of the Hong Kong Democratic Party, faced similar accusations in 2014. In September 2014 Wen Wei Po, a pro-Beijing media, accused the 17-year-old democracy activist Joshua Wong (黃之鋒) of collaborating with “U.S. forces” to cause trouble in the territory, allegations that Wong vehemently denied.

The ICAC raided Lai’s home in August 2014. Less than five months later, both his residence and office were simultaneously targeted by arsonists.

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