Hong Kong pro-democracy lawmaker 'Long Hair' charged with corruption

Legislative Council member Leung Kwok Hung speaking to pro-democracy supporters during a rally in Hong Kong on May 18, 2016.
Legislative Council member Leung Kwok Hung speaking to pro-democracy supporters during a rally in Hong Kong on May 18, 2016.PHOTO: AFP

HONG KONG (AFP) - A veteran pro-democracy lawmaker was charged on Thursday (June 23) by Hong Kong's corruption bureau over a payment from one of the city's best known anti-China media tycoons, in a case he described as a political move.

Leung Kwok Hung - known locally as "Long Hair" - is a prominent activist from the League of Social Democrats. He was arrested and charged with one count of misconduct in public office by the Independent Commission Against Corruption (ICAC).

He is accused of receiving HK$250,000 (S$43,236) "in relation to his public office" from the founder of Apple Daily newspaper Jimmy Lai. The paper is highly critical of Beijing.

Leung told AFP his arrest had "political meaning" just months before the city holds parliamentary elections.

It comes as fears grow in Hong Kong that China is tightening its grip on the semi-autonomous city and that the local government is increasingly influenced by Beijing.

Those concerns have been exacerbated following the recent revelations by Hong Kong bookseller Lam Wing Kee about his eight-month detention in China.

Mr Lam is one of five city booksellers known for selling gossipy titles about Beijing politicians who have disappeared and later resurfaced in China. He claimed he was kept in a cell, blindfolded and interrogated.

With his trademark ponytail and Che Guevara T-shirts, Leung has been a defiant figure in Hong Kong's legislature since winning a seat in 2004.

"Everyone in Hong Kong will understand what it means," he said of his arrest.

"I am a very well known opposition (figure) of Hong Kong, there might be some kind of political meaning," he told AFP. "It will create a lot of political effect just before the next election."

When asked if he denied the charge, he said: "I'll do it in court formally".

Leung has not revealed whether he will stand in the September parliamentary vote.

Mr Lai's spokesman Mark Simon said they had no comment.

A government statement on Thursday said Leung, 60, was charged with "wilfully and intentionally," carrying out misconduct by failing to declare the acceptance of HK$250,000 from Mr Lai between May 2012 and June 2016.

"The case arose from a corruption complaint," the statement said.

Leung is on bail and will appear at a magistrates court on Friday morning.

His activism has already landed him in jail several times.

In 2014, he spent four weeks behind bars for criminal damage and disorderly behaviour during a political protest, and in 2002, he was jailed for two weeks after protesting inside the legislative council chambers before he became a lawmaker.

A parliamentary committee decided late last year that Leung and another lawmaker did not breach political donation rules after they received payments from Mr Lai in a separate case.

Hong Kong was returned to China by Britain in 1997 and is ruled under a "one country, two systems" deal which allows it much greater liberties than seen on the mainland.

But tensions are high amid fears Beijing's influence is increasing and freedoms are being eroded.