Richard Li

Lai See

PUBLISHED : Tuesday, 07 April, 2009, 12:00am
UPDATED : Tuesday, 07 April, 2009, 12:00am


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Story not over at PCCW despite the end of one chapter

Even a Hollywood blockbuster may not provide as many thrills as the continuing adventures of PCCW.

The planned privatisation took a new twist yesterday when the Court of Appeal granted the securities watchdog a hearing on April 16 just hours after the High Court gave approved the deal.

Now the champagne for Richard Li Tzar-kai and his clan will be put back on the shelf, at least temporarily, as the 10-year roller-coaster ride for probably the most action-packed listed company in Hong Kong history continues.

Looking back, no company can match PCCW in terms of press coverage.

With the exception of a rights issue, we think it has tried every other financing exercise, ranging from the largest leveraged buyout to countless privatisation proposals for its mobile unit, its property business and finally the company itself - none of which was successful on its first attempt.

Behind the colourful PCCW has been Mr Li, the chairman, whom we have referred to over the past four years as 'Prince Richard', a nickname he does not like.

Our prince knew how to pick a fight. He brought in China Unicom and tested the limits of its partner's patience with an asset sale plan. He almost struck a deal to exit from the company but called it off after finding his father, Li Ka-shing, was involved in the deal.

Last year he invited bids again for PCCW's core telecommunications assets before calling off all proposals and immediately proceeding with a privatisation. Along the journey many - except Mr Li - were hurt.

The court hearing last week pushed the PCCW saga to a climax as the Securities and Futures Commission revealed details of the alleged vote-rigging matter. That might have led many to believe the PCCW deal would be blocked, but as many already know by now, it's tough guessing the outcome of a story.

So how far are we from the end of the soap opera?

One might be interested to know PCCW's property flagship, Pacific Century Premium Developments, yesterday rose 22 per cent to HK$1.75 on hopes of another privatisation.

Well, as one chapter ends, this tale of Prince Richard's interesting corporate journey isn't over yet.

Singing the blues

He is not Long Hair, but he is definitely a fighter.

Uncle Wong Tak-lo - who sang his version of a Cantonese opera song in front of television news cameras two months ago to protest the PCCW privatisation - was among a few minority shareholders sent away by High Court Justice Susan Kwan Shuk-hing for disturbing the court's order.

Yesterday, Mr Wong managed to sing part of his song again before he was asked to leave the court.

Later, he told reporters that he was furious, citing the vote-rigging saga. He, along with French President Nicolas Sarkozy, charged that Hong Kong was a tax haven, which could seriously affect Hong Kong's status as an international financial centre.

'The worst is yet to come,' the senior citizen warned.

Speaking his mind

Nobel Prize-winning professor John Nash, whose story was featured in the Hollywood movie A Beautiful Mind, was spotted in Wan Chai at the weekend. An informer told us the 81-year-old game theorist (left) - visiting Hong Kong for one week - was seen dining at hip eatery The Pawn, with Techtronic Industries vice-chairman Roy Chung Chi-ping, who is the councillor for Hong Kong Polytechnic University.

Professor Nash will speak with another Nobel laureate, Professor Robert Mundell, the 'father of the euro', to Poly U students today on the global financial crisis before the official installation of its new president, Timothy Tong Wai-cheung, tomorrow.

He will also speak to a group of 800 teenagers on Thursday before leaving on Friday.

No reason to be inactive

Among the reasons why 96.6 per cent of HSBC shareholders were so willing to take up the rights issue, the one below may be in there.

It has come to our notice that the bank will impose a 'business internet banking inactive service charge' of HK$200 next month for customers who have not logged on for a certain period of time.

And that period will be determined by the bank from time to time, and a reminder will be sent to affected customers two months before the fee collection date.

'They never miss a chance to gouge customers who aren't paying attention, do they?' asked David Webb, a corporate activist.