Next seeks release of frozen assets to pay staff, keep presses running

Top News | Jane Cheung 21 Jun 2021

Next Digital will apply to the Security Bureau today for permission to use some of its HK$18 million assets - frozen in a national security probe - to pay salaries as it says the remaining cash can keep Apple Daily afloat only for several weeks.

The activist-backed newspaper, whose chief editor and chief executive have been remanded under the security law, said in a report yesterday that with the freeze of assets from Apple Daily Ltd, Apple Daily Printing and AD Internet, Next Digital faces difficulties continuing operations.

The three companies are estimated to have about 800 staff. If the company cannot pay wages by July 8, the company could breach the Employment Ordinance requiring enterprises to pay monthly salaries no later than the eighth day of each month.

At a Next Digital board meeting on Saturday to discuss salary payments, it was decided that the company will apply to Secretary for Security John Lee Ka-chiu today to unfreeze part of the HK$18 million to pay wages next week.

The company, however, is not hopeful that approval will be granted.

Another potential move is to apply to the High Court, asking to invalidate Lee's order, but it is unlikely an outcome can be reached before payday next week.

"In fact, not only does freezing the three companies' assets affect salary payments, but it also creates difficulties in keeping the paper's operation," Apple Daily said.

"It is understood the company's cash reserve can last only for several weeks. Printing of Apple Daily is also affected as the plant is reviewing stocks of ink and paper while it remains unknown whether suppliers will continue as partners."

On Thursday, 500 police officers raided Next Digital's headquarters in Tseung Kwan O and the homes of its five executives after police alleged that more than 30 Apple Daily articles violated the national security law enacted on June 30 last year.

Next Digital chief executive officer Cheung Kim-hung, Apple Daily editor-in-chief Ryan Law Wai-kwong and the three companies were charged with conspiracy to collude with a foreign country. They appeared in West Kowloon Magistrates' Courts on Saturday.

The two were refused bail by chief magistrate Victor So Wai-tak and will be remanded until the next hearing on August 13.

Three other Apple Daily senior executives - Chan Pui-man, Royston Chow Tat-kuen and Cheung Chi-wai - were arrested on Thursday and released on bail on Friday.

Undersecretary for Labour and Welfare Jonathan Ho Kai-ming said Next Digital has to fulfill its responsibility as an employer even when its assets are frozen.

He said the Labour Department has not received inquiries from any Next Digital staff.

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