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Hong Kong pro-democracy lawmaker charged with corruption

[HONG KONG] A veteran pro-democracy lawmaker was charged Thursday by Hong Kong's corruption bureau over a payment from one of the city's best-known anti-China media tycoons in a case he described as a political move.

Leung Kwok-hung - known locally as "Long Hair" - is a prominent activist from the League of Social Democrats. He was arrested and charged with one count of misconduct in public office by the city's Independent Commission Against Corruption (ICAC).

He is accused of receiving HK$250,000 (S$43,100) "in relation to his public office" from the founder of Apple Daily newspaper Jimmy Lai. The paper is highly critical of Beijing.

Leung told AFP his arrest had "political meaning" just months before parliamentary elections.

It comes as fears grow in Hong Kong that China is tightening its grip on the semi-autonomous city and that the local government is increasingly influenced by Beijing.

Those concerns were exacerbated by recent revelations by Hong Kong bookseller Lam Wing-kee about his eight-month detention in China.

Lam - one of five city booksellers known for selling gossipy titles about Beijing politicians, who disappeared and later resurfaced in China - claimed he was blindfolded and interrogated.

"Everyone in Hong Kong will understand what it means," Leung said of his arrest.

With his trademark ponytail and Che Guevara T-shirts, Leung has been a defiant figure in Hong Kong's legislature since winning a seat in 2004.

"I am a very well known opposition (figure) of Hong Kong, there might be some kind of political meaning," he told AFP.

"It will create a lot of political effect just before the next election." When asked if he denied the charge, Leung said: "I'll do it in court formally".

Leung has not revealed whether he is planning to stand in the September parliamentary vote.

Lai's spokesman Mark Simon said they had no comment.

A government statement on Thursday said Leung, 60, was charged with "wilfully and intentionally," carrying out misconduct by failing to declare the acceptance of HK$250,000 from Lai between May 2012 and June 2016.

"The case arose from a corruption complaint," the statement said.

Leung is on bail and will appear at a magistrates court Friday morning.

Hong Kong was returned to China by Britain in 1997 and is ruled under a "one country, two systems" deal which allows it much greater liberties than seen on the mainland.

But tensions are high amid fears Beijing's influence is increasing and freedoms are being eroded.