Hong Kong's top court on Tuesday ordered business tycoon Jimmy Lai Chee-ying to stay behind bars on charges of fraud and colluding with foreign forces under National Security Law, reported South China Morning Post (SCMP).
Earlier, a judge had released him on an HK Dollar 10 million bond (USD 1.29 million).
As per the new rulings, Chief Justice Andrew Cheung Kui-nung said that the earlier order was an erroneous interpretation of key provisions in the National Security Law.
However, he said that Lai might apply for bail once again at the High Court, as the Court of Final Appeal lacks jurisdiction to handle his application.
Lai, founder of the Next Digital media group and the tabloid-style Apple Daily newspaper, was placed under house arrest on December 23 after the High Court ruled he had an arguable defence for both charges and was unlikely to abscond.
He resigned as Next Digital's chairman and executive director two days before the Court of Final Appeal sent him back to jail on New Year's Eve.
That decision was made after the top court ruled prosecutors could appeal against the lower court's reading of Article 42(2) of the Beijing-imposed security law, which also criminalises acts of secession, subversion and terrorism.
The clause specifies that "no bail shall be granted to a criminal suspect or defendant unless the judge has sufficient grounds for believing [they] will not continue to commit acts endangering national security", reported SCMP.
Though they raised no objection to Lai's bail with respect to the fraud allegation, prosecutors did argue he should be remanded over the collusion charge, as Article 42(2) appeared to suggest bail should not be given to defendants in security law cases unless there were compelling reasons to do so.
Lai's case is the first time the Court of Final Appeal, established in 1997 when the city was handed back to China by the British, has tackled proceedings stemming from the security law, which was imposed on the city by the central government in June of last year.
The appeal was heard before Chief Justice Cheung, permanent justices Roberto Ribeiro and Joseph Fok, and non-permanent local judges Patrick Chan Siu-oi and Frank Stock. No overseas judges presided over the hearing, a rare omission for cases before the top court.
Lai was the first defendant to be released on bail after being charged under the security law, prompting Chinese state media to sharply criticise the decision and warn that mainland authorities could take over the case.
Lai was first charged with fraud on December 3, alongside two senior Next Digital executives, over the alleged improper use of office space at the company's headquarters in Tseung Kwan O. He was the only defendant denied bail on that occasion.
One week later, he was charged with colluding with foreign forces in a separate case, with his bail application similarly dismissed, only for it to be later granted by the High Court upon review.
Both cases are set to return to West Kowloon Court on April 16, reported SCMP.
( With inputs from ANI )
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