Hong Kong asks Britain for details on death of man charged with spying for China

FILE PHOTO: A general view of skyline buildings, in Hong Kong

HONG KONG/LONDON (Reuters) -A top Hong Kong government official has urged Britain to let the public "know the truth" about the unexplained death of a man who had been charged by British prosecutors with aiding the Asian financial hub's foreign intelligence service.

Algernon Yau, Hong Kong's Secretary for Commerce and Economic Development, met Britain's deputy counsel-general to discuss the incident and express concern about the death according to a statement from the Commerce and Economic Development Bureau, released late on Thursday.

A British government spokesman said it would be inappropriate to comment with a police investigation in progress.

British police are investigating the death of Matthew Trickett, 37, a former Royal Marine who worked as an immigration officer and private investigator. He was found dead in a park on Sunday in Maidenhead, west of London.

Later on Friday, Thames Valley Police said after a post-mortem that it could confirm the death was not being treated as suspicious.

Trickett was charged with two others earlier this month with offences under Britain's National Security Act, a law passed last year that brought in new measures to target threats from foreign states.

He had been granted bail at a May 13 court hearing along with Chung Biu Yuen, 63, an office manager at the Hong Kong Economic and Trade Office in London, and Chi Leung Wai, 38, also known as Peter Wai, who works as a UK Border Force officer.

The trio had been charged with assisting a foreign intelligence service between December and May by "agreeing to undertake information gathering, surveillance and acts of deception" in Britain.

A second charge alleges the three men conducted "foreign interference" by forcing entry into a residential address in Britain on May 1.

Richardson said the court had been notified on Tuesday that prosecutors were discontinuing their case against Trickett "for obvious reasons".

The two remaining suspects, who have not yet entered a plea, were told by Judge Jeremy Baker their trial, expected to last five weeks, had been set for February next year, and they will next appear in court on Oct. 25.

Hong Kong was under British rule for 156 years before reverting to Chinese sovereignty in 1997, and there have been growing tensions between the two nations over a sweeping national security crackdown since sometimes violent pro-democracy protests swept the territory in 2019.

Yau said Britain should handle the matter fairly and give an open account of the incident, "especially the death of a person who was arrested by the UK Police and reportedly a UK immigration officer".

He added it was important to "let the public know the truth and prevent unwarranted speculation" and ensure the normal operation of Hong Kong's Economic and Trade Office in London.

In response to Yau's remarks, a British government spokesperson said it extended condolences to those affected. "As there is an active police investigation, it would be inappropriate to comment further."

The Chinese Embassy in London accused Britain of fabricating the charges against the men and said it had no right to interfere in Hong Kong's affairs.

(Reporting by Farah Master in Hong Kong and Michael Holden in LondonEditing by Lincoln Feast, Frances Kerry and Nick Macfie)