The offense was created by a new national security law imposed on the city by Beijing last month. Jimmy Lai’s business partner Mark Simon said the tycoon was arrested on Monday.
Seven men in all, aged between 39 and 72, were arrested, according to a police statement, on charges of colluding with foreign forces to endanger national security and conspiracy to commit fraud. The statement did not name any individuals, but a spokesperson told CNN that Lai was among them and had been arrested on suspicion of collusion.
“The police investigation is still ongoing and we cannot rule out the possibility of other people being arrested,” he added.
Later Monday morning, a livestream uploaded to Facebook by Apple Daily showed police searching the company̵
Under the new security law, which was imposed on the city by Beijing last month, the crime of collusion with foreign powers carries the maximum penalty of life imprisonment. Lai has strong ties to Washington and has lobbied for the US to take a tougher line towards China. What he has done to break the law since it was passed is unclear.
The Hong Kong government defended the law as necessary to protect national security. It has been denounced by human rights groups, the European Union and the United States as being excessively broad and restrictive of the city’s civil liberties.
A former clothing tycoon, Lai founded Hong Kong’s Apple Daily newspaper in 1995, two years before Hong Kong passed from British to Chinese control. Visually modeled on USA Today, the newspaper caused a small revolution in the city’s media landscape, sparking a price war and drastically changing the way rivals operated as they struggled to keep up with Lai’s tabloid sensibility.
While focusing on celebrity gossip and other tabloids, the paper has emerged from the handover as one of the fiercest critics of local government and Beijing. He has openly supported the pro-democracy movement and anti-government protests, printing flyers and posters on its pages that people can cut out and take to the marches.
This brought 71-year-old Lai to a prominent place within the opposition movement and made him a figure of disgust for the city’s pro-Beijing politicians and media.
The People’s Daily – the official spokesperson for the Chinese Communist Party – said at the time when Lai was part of a quartet of “secret brokers and modern traitors”, while Beijing sought to blame the Hong Kong riots on foreign forces.
CNN’s Isaac Yee and Jenni Marsh contributed to the report.