HONG KONG - Hong Kong's most powerful critic of Beijing, a brash media tycoon whose home was raided by anti-corruption officers, said he will not be cowed by efforts to silence him ahead of a crunch decision tomorrow on the city's political future.
Democracy advocates meanwhile expressed alarm yesterday after Chinese army vehicles were photographed travelling down a major thoroughfare, in what they condemned as a show of "military might" ahead of expected anti-establishment protests tomorrow.
"There's no doubt it only makes us more determined. But that's all I can tell," Mr Jimmy Lai, 65, told Reuters yesterday of the corruption allegations against him. "We will slug it through. Whatever happens, it (will) only toughen us up."
Mr Lai stood by on Thursday as his home in an affluent avenue in Hong Kong's Kowloon district was raided by the Independent Commission Against Corruption (ICAC), a move some observers said was part of an intensifying campaign to smother pro-democracy forces seeking the right to vote.
A copy of a search warrant seen by Reuters gave permission for the ICAC to look for items including bank and electronic records related to payments or donations made by Mr Lai to Labour Party officials.
The self-made millionaire, smuggled into Hong Kong by boat as a child, has become one of the most influential magnates in greater China, standing up to an increasingly assertive China and pumping millions of his own money into a movement seeking democracy for the former British colony.
But Mr Lai's role as the main financial patron of the pro-democracy movement since the territory's 1997 handover to Communist Party rulers in China has come under growing scrutiny.
The early-morning raid came days before Beijing is expected to announce on Sunday it will limit 2017 elections for Hong Kong's leader to a handful of pro-Beijing candidates.
The move is likely to trigger a showdown with pan-democrats who are planning an Occupy Central campaign to shut down the city's main business district with thousands of protesters if the authorities refuse to allow the public to choose candidates.
In what democracy activists say is an act of intimidation, at least four People's Liberation Army (PLA) armoured personnel carriers were seen in the early hours of Thursday near the busy Jordan and Yau Ma Tei regions of the city, the Apple Daily reported.
The newspaper, Hong Kong's second-most popular daily with a circulation of around 190,000, is owned by Mr Lai's media company Next Media.
Pro-democracy lawmaker Claudia Mo said she believed the armoured carriers were a deliberate attempt to frighten activists ahead of the protests.
"It's a show of military might to scare off Hong Kong people who are about to stage some large-scale civil disobedience activity. The timing is very suspicious," she told Agence France-Presse.
The Chinese army and navy have bases in Hong Kong, but have generally kept a low profile.
Mr Lai Tung Kwok, Hong Kong's security chief, vowed to crack down on anyone taking illegal direct action, but said he had "no knowledge" of PLA movements this week.
The PLA did not immediately respond to enquiries.
REUTERS, AGENCE FRANCE-PRESSE