Richard Li

Lai See

PUBLISHED : Wednesday, 04 February, 2009, 12:00am
UPDATED : Wednesday, 04 February, 2009, 12:00am


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Regulators ready to bid PCCW adieu and good riddance

If you listen closely enough, you will probably hear a huge sigh of relief this afternoon when PCCW shareholders vote on Prince Richard and China Unicom's privatisation offer. It will be coming from the Securities and Futures Commission in anticipation of being able to see the back of the company.

Since Richard Li Tzar-kai's small dotcom holding business became one of the city's largest corporations after acquiring Cable and Wireless HKT nine years ago, the securities watchdog has spent more than enough man-hours investigating PCCW's dealings.

Who can forget the Cable and Wireless fiasco, when PCCW made conflicting statements in Hong Kong and London regarding a possible takeover bid in 2003? The SFC stepped in, and the company had to issue an apology.

There were also a couple of probes into PCCW's dealings with mobile operator Sunday. The first was about possible insider trading in the run-up to PCCW's acquisition offer in 2005. Then, two years later, the watchdog was prompted to tighten its rules on asset stripping following PCCW's action after a failed bid to privatise Sunday.

But the most time-consuming case has been the ongoing saga of PCCW's sale.

The SFC first took up the case when Texas Pacific Group, then Macquarie indicated an interest in buying the bulk of PCCW's core network in 2006.

Prince Richard later changed his mind and decided to sell to Francis Leung Pak-to, an investment banker with close ties to Li Ka-shing, but that deal was called off after the prince discovered his father was behind it. And then of course there is the latest allegation that a group of former Pacific Century Insurance agents have been offered 1,000 PCCW shares each in return for voting today in favour of the buyout.

However, much to the credit of the company's lawyers, PCCW has never been publicly reprimanded or fined.

Another group of people who are likely to be pleased to see the company delisted are PCCW's long-suffering shareholders, of whom Lai See is one. Having watched the share price collapse more than 96 per cent from a high of HK$131 in 2000, it's time for us to be put out of our misery at HK$4.50.

In fact, the only people likely to shed a tear are the legal and public relations teams who will no longer be earning fees fighting in PCCW's corner. Oh, and the business media, who will be losing one of their favourite headline makers.

Breaking the news is more fun

It's no secret that former Cable and Wireless HKT chairman Linus Cheung Wing-lam (above) has failed to be impressed with the performance of PCCW since the 2000 takeover.

Little surprise, then, that the new Asia Television chairman was swift to send his station's newshounds a congratulatory message after their report on the PCCW privatisation controversy on Monday night.

It was the main story on the station's revamped late-night news show and even managed to get the elusive Prince Richard on air, albeit saying over the phone: 'I'm in a meeting' then hanging up. The report also quoted an unnamed Fortis insurance agent saying he would be rewarded with shares if he voted for the privatisation.

How different would things have been if Mr Cheung had opted for a deal with Singapore Telecommunications instead, all those years ago?

As far as we know, this is true

Congratulations should also go to the lawyers who drafted PCCW's resumption-of-trading statement yesterday. The small-print paragraph before the directors' signatures read:

'The directors of PCCW jointly and severally accept full responsibility for the accuracy of the information contained in this announcement and confirm, having made all reasonable enquiries, that to the best of their knowledge, opinions expressed in this announcement have been arrived at after due and careful consideration and there are no other facts not contained in this announcement, the omission of which would make any statement in this announcement misleading.'

Sounds like it came straight out of Donald Rumsfeld's book of 'known unknowns'.