Ex-Hong Kong lawmaker says some bank accounts unfrozen, no longer trusts HSBC

FILE PHOTO: Former pro-democracy lawmaker Ted Hui Chi-fung appears outside West Kowloon Magistrates’ Courts in Hong Kong, China November 19, 2020. REUTERS/Lam Yik

(Reuters) – Former Hong Kong democracy lawmaker and activist Ted Hui, who fled to Britain after facing criminal charges, said some of his bank accounts had been unfrozen and he had moved funds swiftly from HSBC, adding he no longer trusted the global bank.

Hui, who faces charges linked to anti-government demonstrations in the Chinese-ruled city last year, said on Sunday his Hong Kong bank accounts had been frozen after he left the city to seek exile in Britain with his family to continue his pro-democracy activities.

“Due to complete distrust of HSBC in Hong Kong, my family has immediately transferred their savings to some safe places,” Hui said on his Facebook page.

HSBC did not immediately respond to requests for comment.

Hui, who 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, urged Hong Kong and international financial regulators to investigate his case.

The veteran activist had 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 0005.HK and Hang Seng Bank were frozen. He gave no further details.

HSBC has found itself caught in the cross-hairs of pro-democracy 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.

“We do not comment on the details of individual accounts,” a Hang Seng Bank spokesman told Reuters by email. Bank of China did not immediately respond to requests for comment.

Hong Kong police said late on Sunday they were investigating a Hong Kong person, who had absconded overseas with bank accounts being frozen, for suspected money laundering and possible violation of the new national security law.

It was not immediately clear who police were referring to.

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 witih Britian in 1997, denies curbing rights and freedoms in the city.

Local media reported that at least five accounts worth hundreds of thousands of U.S. 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”.