Hong Kong furthers financial crackdown on Jimmy Lai

The Hong Kong government has taken further steps in cracking down on on media tycoon and staunch Beijing critic Jimmy Lai.

According to a Reuters exclusive on Thursday, it's warned HSBC and Citibank to stay away from his financial accounts.

The city’s security chief sent letters to Lai as well as branches of HSBC and Citibank earlier this month, threatening the banks with up to seven years in jail for any who deal with the media tycoon's local accounts.

The news comes after Hong Kong authorities froze Lai’s majority stake in his media company Next Digital and three other accounts under China's sweeping national security law for the city.

It could hamper any attempt by the democracy activist to move offshore assets back home and prop up Next's troubled Apple Daily tabloid.

And it's raised fears that the national security law could now be extending its reach into banking and wealth management.

Lai could be not be reached for comment. HSBC declined to comment while Citibank said it could not comment on individuals' accounts.

The move also comes on the eve of Lai’s sentencing for charges related to an unauthorized assembly on China’s National Day in 2019.

Lai was previously sentenced to 14 months in prison for participating in unauthorized assemblies earlier that year, at the height of Hong Kong’s anti-government protests.

Lai is among the most high-profile arrests made under the security law so far, facing three charges including collusion with a foreign country.

Breaching the security law, which China says is vital for restoring order in Hong Kong, is punishable with up to life in prison.

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