Spies like us with a view to an interview

PUBLISHED : Friday, 16 May, 2003, 12:00am
UPDATED : Friday, 16 May, 2003, 12:00am

The alleged American-Chinese spy Katrina Leung appears to have given mainland companies an excuse to decline reporters' questions. This is one conclusion which could be drawn from a conversation an SCMP reporter had yesterday with an official at Shenzhen Development Bank, which has apparent differences with Newbridge Capital, which is chasing a stake of up to 20 per cent in the bank.

A rather routine call to the company secretary's office generated a strange response. 'How can you reporters make a call like that? Your interview [application] has to be approved by relevant Shenzhen [authorities] and needed to go through the general office of the bank.'

He added that he did not know the number of the bank's general office. 'Why don't you come over to our office [to do the interview]? How can I know that you are not a spy from Taiwan? Or a spy from America? Or a terrorist?!'


It's not only international men of mystery or recently disgraced dictators who employ doubles.

Yesterday was 'Meeting Thursday' day for corporate do-gooder David Webb, and with so many AGMs on he had to employ others with a sincere concern for the little man.

Doubles popped up all over town. Appearing at China Mobile's AGM was Paul Zimmerman. He was one of four Webb doubles employed during the day to ensure Mr Webb's crusade stayed on the tracks.

But there wasn't much confrontation. Mr Zimmerman objected to a resolution which sought shareholders' approval to issue up to 20 per cent of its capital.

But in a very unWebb-like move, he was spotted after the meeting congratulating China Mobile chairman Wang Xiaochu on the company's good job on corporate governance and transparency.

Perhaps glad to have escaped the real Webb attack, Mr Wang modestly replied: 'We're just doing our best.'

However, body double number two was less on the ball.

At Cheung Kong Infrastructure's AGM an MBA student read from his Webb-prepared script. Chairman Victor Li Tzar-kuoi, trying not to waste people's time on translations, asked: 'Since we are both Chinese, should we speak in Chinese?'

But the Webb acolyte insisted on speaking English. Well- schooled.

His objection was the management's motion to reappoint Hongkong Electric's independent executive director Wong Chung-hin, claiming he might have a conflict of interest with his role as a director of parent group, Hutchison Whampoa.

But Mr Wong was a step ahead of the proceedings. The chairman had only reached the resolution to reappoint Ralph Shea when he voiced the objection. Good question, pity about the timing.

To see the real thing, shareholders had to travel across town to the AGM of the MTRC and there was no way to disguise Mr Webb's thirst for exposure.

First he bombarded management with upwards of 30 questions. Then in an unbridled display of self-promotion, at the meeting's conclusion Mr Webb, uninvited, took the platform designated for outgoing chairman Jack So Chak-kwong's post-AGM Q&A and offered himself for interviews.

Flushed with an apparent sense of achievement after the marathon session, Mr Webb turned to the press and asked: 'Are there any questions? Any questions?

There was an embarrassed silence and no questions, although the sighs were audible.

Mr Webb, well known as a member of Mensa, that club for the super bright, should perhaps learn when to stop.


Combining the two things we love most, money and food, Lai See was intrigued by a rather cheeky offer from private bankers Meyado and posh Central restaurant Alibi.

Fine Food and Finance promise a series of lunches on different areas of financing, but the one that took our fancy was entitled: Taxes Can Seriously Damage Your Wealth - How Offshore Trusts Can Help.

For a mere $200, a three-course lunch will be dished up together with a door prize of a bottle of bubbly.

Fine Food and Finance promise that the speaker from Insinger de Beaufort 'will be to the point, punchy and available to give advice after the lunch'.

You heard it here first.

Got a question for Lai See? laisee@scmp.com Tel: 2565 2632 Fax: 2565 1624