“I have piles of cash at home, the government is paying me cash for my salary because I don’t have a bank account,” Lam added.
The highest ranking official in the semiautonomous territory, Lam said she did not want to deter people from entering Hong Kong’s public service because of the sanctions. “To be so unjustifiably sanctioned by the U.S. government is an honor,” she said.
Lam is paid around 5.21 million Hong Kong dollars, roughly $672,000, a year, making her among the highest paid public officials in the world.
Despite her bravado, Lam’s remarks were widely welcomed by her critics. Some activists noted that it appeared to suggest that even Chinese banks were complying with American financial restrictions.
“Lam says that no banks are willing to provide financial services to her. Not even Chinese state banks,” Nathan Law, a prominent Hong Kong activist who fled the country this summer, wrote on Twitter. “Her salary is paid in cash and she can only spend in cash. What does it imply?”
Lam was among 11 top Hong Kong officials who were targeted with U.S. sanctions in August. The Treasury Department said the sanctions were a response to “draconian” national security legislation China has imposed on Hong Kong, which lays the groundwork to jail protesters and censor critics.
As chief executive of Hong Kong, Lam was “directly responsible for implementing Beijing’s policies of suppression of freedom and democratic processes,” the Treasury said in a statement announcing the sanctions.
The sanctions meant that Lam and the other Hong Kong individuals were added to the Specially Designated Nationals and Blocked Persons List, or SDN List, maintained by Treasury’s Office of Foreign Assets Control.
Inclusion on the list essentially bars any businesses with significant U.S. links from working with the individual and blocks access to all property or other assets that the individuals have within U.S. jurisdiction.
Lam initially suggested that the sanctions on her were only a minor inconvenience. In August, shortly after the sanctions were announced, she posted on Facebook that the address on her designation was wrong and that she would cancel a U.S. visa she applied for in 2016.
Later in the month, the Hong Kong chief executive told an interviewer from Chinese state media that her “use of credit cards is sort of hampered” but added that the restrictions were “really meaningless as far as I’m concerned.”
But there had been some signs that the sanctions designation had caused more serious complications for Lam’s family.
Hong Kong media reported in August that her 26-year-old son Joshua Lam had returned to Hong Kong from the United States, where he had been completing a doctorate in mathematics at Harvard University, around the time the sanctions were announced.