HONG KONG: Hong Kong police said on Monday (Dec 7) they had asked banks to freeze Ted Hui's accounts because they suspected money-laundering by the former lawmaker, who fled to Britain after facing criminal charges related to anti-government protests last year.
Steve Li, senior superintendent of the police’s National Security Department, told a press briefing that authorities sought assistance from banks, which he declined to name, to freeze funds related to a crowdfunding operation tied to Hui.
"We found out that there were about HK$850,000 ... being pocketed by him (Hui) and through some of the accounts owned by him and his relatives," Li said, adding that the money frozen did not represent the total funds held by Hui and his family.
Hui was one of several opposition lawmakers who quit the Legislative Council last month in protest at the dismissal of four colleagues in what they called another push by Beijing to suppress democracy in the city.
He said on Sunday that funds raised from a crowdfunding he initiated last year to fund a private prosecution against police had been deposited in a lawyer's account and had nothing to do with him or his family.
The veteran activist said his wife, parents and his own Hong Kong bank accounts had been frozen after he left to pursue his pro-democracy activities overseas.
Li said the order to freeze the accounts was unrelated to Hui fleeing Hong Kong or the charges which he faces relating to anti-government protests in 2019.
However, comments Hui had made on social media after leaving Hong Kong violated its National Security Law for collusion with foreign powers, Li said.
Hui has urged Hong Kong and international financial regulators to investigate his case.
The veteran activist told Reuters via social media on Sunday that bank accounts belonging to him, his wife and his parents at Bank of China Hong Kong, HSBC and Hang Seng Bank were frozen. He gave no further details.
Later on Sunday, Hui said on his Facebook page that his wife and parents' bank accounts, together with part of his accounts had been unfrozen briefly and his family had moved funds swiftly from HSBC because they no longer trusted the global bank.
"Due to complete distrust of HSBC in Hong Kong, my family has immediately transferred their savings to some safe places," Hui said.
HSBC said it was disappointed to see the circumstances being "misrepresented", but did not elaborate, saying it was unable to comment on specific account activity.
"When banks are made aware of negative news in the market, they will enhance due diligence on the relevant accounts as part of their responsibility," a HSBC spokeswoman said in an email.
"We have to abide by the laws of the jurisdiction in which we operate," she said.
HSBC has found itself caught in the cross-hairs of protests in the former British colony, its biggest market, with its branches vandalised during some rallies.
Some protesters have accused HSBC of being complicit in action by the authorities against activists, accusations the bank has denied.
A Hang Seng Bank spokesman said it did not comment on the details of individual accounts. Bank of China did not immediately respond to requests for comment.
READ: Hong Kong activist Joshua Wong jailed for 13 and a half months for 2019 anti-government protest
Democracy activists say conditions have worsened in the former British colony after China imposed security legislation on the financial hub in June, making anything Beijing regards as subversion, secession, terrorism or colluding with foreign forces punishable by up to life in prison.
China, which promises Hong Kong a high degree of autonomy under its handover agreement with Britain in 1997, denies curbing rights and freedoms in the city.
Local media reported that at least five accounts worth hundreds of thousands of US dollars belonging to Hui and his family had been inaccessible since Saturday.
Hui contacted the banks and was told there were "remarks" placed on his accounts, but staff refused to provide further information, Hong Kong's South China Morning Post reported.
One of the pro-democracy activists arrested last month and charged with disturbing legislature proceedings, Hui arrived in Copenhagen last week on an invitation from Danish lawmakers.
Hong Kong's Security Bureau issued a statement on Friday that, while not naming Hui, said "running away by jumping bail and using various excuses such as so-called 'exile' to avoid one's responsibility is a shameful, hypocritical and cowardly act of recoil".