Mark Simon Hong Kong
Mark Simon, the American right-hand-man to Hong Kong media magnate Jimmy Lai, who has been accused in Chinese media of being a 'foreign force' behind recent pro-democracy protests. Reuters

HONG KONG -- Leung Chun-ying, the city's embattled chief executive, has long made the claim that “external forces” – in other words, foreigners, are behind the pro-democracy protests that have have brought parts of the city to a standstill for over a month.

One of the principal targets of Leung's suspicions, and those of mainland China, is Mark Simon, a 50-year-old American who serves as the right hand man to Jimmy Lai, a Hong Kong newspaper magnate whose publications are the most reliably anti-Chinese Communist Party and anti-Hong Kong government in the city.

Simon describes himself as the victim of a “relentless smear campaign,” and has, according to a report from the South China Morning Post, recently moved his family away from Hong Kong for their own protection.

Simon first became a focus of Beijing's ire in 2011, when a cache of his employer's emails were leaked online. The emails showed that Lai had donated U.S. $1.3 million to pro-democracy groups and political candidates in Hong Kong, and that Simon had handled the payments. Lai was open about his financial backing of pro-democracy and anti-Beijing groups in the city before the emails leaked, and the donations were entirely legal.

After the emails were made public, Hong Kong papers run by the Chinese Communist Party and a media group owned by a pro-China businessman suggested that the money Lai donated had originated in the United States, citing as evidence Simon’s former job as a submarine analyst for the Pentagon, according to a report from the Washington Post.

"I have never made any secret that I worked for the U.S. Navy. I am proud of it. But I left the navy in 1991 and [have] never been in the pay, association, or employed in any intelligence work for any government since then. Also, on the stolen emails alone, if I am a spy, I am really pretty damn bad at it," Simon told the South China Morning Post.

One month before the Occupy movement began in earnest in Hong Kong, both Simon and Lai's homes were among those raided by Hong Kong's anti-corruption police. The raids were triggered by allegations that some Hong Kong legislators had violated the city's anti-bribery statues, according to a report from the New York Times. No legal action was taken as a result of the raids.

Civic Party lawmaker Claudia Mo, who received financial support from Lai, suggested that the raids were timed to divert public attention away from the subject of political reform, according to EJInsight, an Asia-focussed politics blog.

An Aug. 14 editorial in China Daily, a privately owned Chinese paper that is seen as reflecting the government's views, entitled “Lai's Millions, Or Millions Of Lies,” asked:

“What’s next for Jimmy Lai, now that his cover has been blown to smithereens? And, equally important, what’s next for the network of political stooges and trouble-making activists who for years have unashamedly been dipping their slimy fingers into his abundant slush fund?”

Hong Kong's chief executive, Leung Chun-ying, has said that he will provide evidence that foreign forces were behind the city's pro-democracy protests, but has, thus far, failed to do so.

Lai has always denied being an agent of foreign governments. As far as Simon is concerned, the American told the South China Morning Post this week: “I am not going to let a bunch of jackass commies impose things on me.”