Beijing's favorite 'man of mystery' speaks out

October 31, 2014 09:41
Mark Simon has been forced to move his family back to the United States for security reasons but vows not to let a relentless smear campaign force him out of Hong Kong. Photo: Reuters

An American aide to a prominent pro-democracy activist has been forced to move his family out of Hong Kong for safety reasons and pressed to deny that he is a spy for the United States, but he is vowing to fight on, not running scared.

Mark Simon, the right-hand man of pro-democracy newspaper magnate Jimmy Lai, told Reuters  he will not let a "relentless smear campaign" force him out of Hong Kong -- and he still has plenty of stomach for the fight.

Simon, a large, loud man of 50 has been portrayed across pro-Beijing media as a CIA agent.

He is avowedly Republican and a proud Catholic, something that links him to Lai and many other prominent figures in the Hong Kong democracy struggle.

Simon described Lai as an instinctive backer of underdogs rather than an "egotist" who believes that he will singlehandedly change China.

"Jimmy's instinct is to size up the weak, and to size up the strong, and then instinctively protect the weak," he said.

"We are Hong Kong guys and we are Catholics."

Simon made the remarks against a backdrop of pro-democracy protests that entered their second month this week.

Simon said he is not afraid about staying in Hong Kong but after his address was published online, he decided to send his wife and two children back to the US.

"I have a good job, I have a great boss, I have huge responsibilities and I am not going to let a bunch of jackass commies impose things on me," Simon said.

"I just don't like bullies acting like this... If I was 25 years younger I would be walking in these guys' bars looking for them."

Earlier this year, hundreds of e-mails and documents were stolen in a hacking attack on Lai's Next Media operation, some of them detailing the magnate's extensive, and well known, funding of Hong Kong's democratic activists.

They were then leaked en masse to Hong Kong media, including pro-Beijing mouthpiece papers that have focused on Simon's alleged role, Reuters said.

Hong Kong's anti-corruption force, the Independent Commission Against Corruption, is also investigating after public complaints over specific funding to lawmakers. Both Simon's and Lai's homes have been searched.

Simon has been in Hong Kong since the early 1990s and has worked with Lai since 2000, working earlier on media and online projects and more recently helping manage his extensive non-media investments.

Of his portrayal in pro-Beijing media as an "international man of mystery", Simon links the allegations against him back to his four years as a young civilian in the US Navy as an intelligence analyst scrutinising submarine developments.

He has also made no secret of his Republican activism, or his extensive contacts in the US Congress, some of whom he meets during visits to Hong Kong.

"You've got 20 percent of America that thinks Barack Obama is not a US citizen, OK, and in a place like Hong Kong you've got 30 percent of people who believe all this CIA stuff," he said.

He believes the US government has no interest in meddling in Hong Kong but merely wants it to remain stable. And he doesn't believe China really thinks of him as a menace.

"If they really thought I was causing trouble, I wouldn't be here," he said. "They would have nailed me to the wall."

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