Tycoon Li Ka Shing backs press freedom after attack on Hong Kong editor; says his wealth is "underestimated"

Influential Hong Kong tycoon Li Ka Shing on Friday, Feb 28, 2014, condemned a brutal attack on a veteran journalist and warned the territory will suffer serious harm if it loses press freedom. -- ST FILE PHOTO: EDWIN KOO
Influential Hong Kong tycoon Li Ka Shing on Friday, Feb 28, 2014, condemned a brutal attack on a veteran journalist and warned the territory will suffer serious harm if it loses press freedom. -- ST FILE PHOTO: EDWIN KOO

HONG KONG (AFP) - Influential Hong Kong tycoon Li Ka Shing on Friday condemned a brutal attack on a veteran journalist and warned the territory will suffer serious harm if it loses press freedom.

Mr Li, who is Asia's richest person, also said his fortune is at least 40 percent underestimated and that he won't "admit" to being a Hong Kong tycoon, Bloomberg reported.

"I think it's not important if you are a tycoon or not," Mr Li told reporters on Friday in Hong Kong. "It's more important if your life is meaningful or not, if people trust you; people admire and don't despise you."

Mr Li has a net worth of US$29.2 billion (S$37 billion), making him the richest person in Asia and the 22nd-richest in the world, according to the Bloomberg Billionaires Index.

Mr Li joined a chorus of dismay over Wednesday's attack on Kevin Lau, who is being treated in hospital after being hacked with a cleaver in broad daylight.

A new alliance of journalist and news organisations plans to stage a rally on Sunday to condemn a string of violent attacks against the media which have stoked concerns for freedom of expression in the southern Chinese city.

"Violence can in no way be right. No matter what, the rule of law is the most important (aspect) in Hong Kong. Hong Kong is nothing without rule of law," Mr Li said at a press conference held as his conglomerate Hutchison Whampoa announced financial results.

Appearing solemn and concerned, he said press freedom "is our core value. If Hong Kong does not have press freedom, Hong Kong will face huge losses."

Mr Li, 85, rarely comments on political matters and is considered pro-Beijing and has criticised pro-democracy campaigns in the past.

The attack on Mr Lau, former editor of the liberal Ming Pao newspaper, has drawn condemnation from the United States and the European Union, as fears grow that Beijing is tightening its grip 17 years after the city was handed over from Britain to China.

Mr Lau was removed as editor at the Ming Pao daily last month, triggering protests by staff who feared that replacing him with an editor from Malaysia seen as pro-Beijing was an attempt to stifle the paper's strong track record of investigative reporting.

Authorities said on Friday that Mr Lau, who was left fighting for his life with multiple deep wounds, is slowly improving and has regained consciousness.

"His situation has improved from critical to serious this morning," a government spokesman told AFP.

An investigation is under way to track down the perpetrators. The South China Morning Post said on Friday that anti-triad detectives were tapping their networks of "snitches" associated with the crime gangs for leads.

"Every information on the payroll is being tapped for information. No stone is being left unturned," the paper quoted an unnamed police source as saying.