6 December 2019
Leaked documents reveal Jimmy Lai's taste for the finer things in life, including wine and art. Photo: HKEJ
Leaked documents reveal Jimmy Lai's taste for the finer things in life, including wine and art. Photo: HKEJ

Jimmy Lai and his two lieutenants

Media tycoon Jimmy Lai Chee-ying is back in the spotlight as some confidential information stored on the computer of a close associate mysteriously found its way to newspaper offices late Monday.

The documents, said to have been stolen from a machine belonging to Mark Simon — a commercial director at Next Media Animation — reveal many aspects about Lai, including his private life and social connections. 

The computer files, containing 900 pictures and documents, were emailed to media organizations by an anonymous person, laying out details on various things, including the tycoon’s donations to pro-democratic parties and his private investments in art, wine and property.

From these disclosures, it is clear that Lai hired a couple of Americans to be his political and economic advisers. One of the persons handled over US$100 million worth of Lai’s personal real estate while the other served as a guardian of the estate for Lai’s children.

The more prominent one is Simon, who has been with the Next Media group since 2000. Acting as a spokesman for Lai in interactions with the international media, Simon had once told the Wall Street Journal and New York Times on how Apple Daily lost advertising from major banks in Hong Kong due to his support for the democracy movement. It is said that some higher-ups ordered the lenders not to advertise in Lai’s publication.

From the leaked files, we learn that Simon, who was once an intelligence analyst with US Marine Corp, handled Lai’s personal and family investments such as hotels. The tycoon is said to own four hotels, including one in Lake Ontario, worth a total of US$100 million.

Simon, who is said to be a Republican supporter, is reported to have arranged a visit of Jack David, assistant to a former US defense secretary, to the container terminal in Hong Kong to inspect its security facilities.

The other lieutenant of Lai is William McGurn, better known as the chief speechwriter for President George W. Bush from June 2006 until February 2008.

McGurn is one of the two guardians for Lai’s three children aged below 18, according to a will of the media mogul.

Serving as a vice president at News Corp, McGurn also wrote speeches for Rupert Murdoch and was named an editorial page editor of New York Post after serving in several editorial positions that included stints at the Wall Street Journal and the Far East Economic Review in Hong Kong. He is also the author of the book “Perfidious Albion: The Abandonment of Hong Kong”.

It is not clear how and why a Murdoch senior staffer was entrusted with the estate of Lai. But we’ll leave that question to Uncle Rupert, who is a bit pre-occupied now with a bid for Time Warner.

Meanwhile, the leaked files also reveal some lesser-known but colorful aspects of Lai’s personal life. The red wine lover apparently spent a few millions in 2012 as he ordered a total of 9,700 bottles from Bordeaux, France.

Among other indulgences, Lai bought seven art pieces last year from the Shibunkaku art gallery in Kyoto. The list comprises drawings, some furniture and a coffee mug.

Lai is also known as a big property investor in Taiwan. According to the leaked documents, the tycoon bought 5,000 square meters of land on the island but sold over 1,500 square meters for HK$250 million last year.

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EJ Insight writer