Shareholders stunned by new ATV owner

PUBLISHED : Saturday, 11 September, 2010, 12:00am
UPDATED : Saturday, 11 September, 2010, 12:00am

The Broadcasting Authority has approved new owners for struggling ATV but, in a surprise move, it is a relative of mainland property tycoon Wong Ching, not Wong himself, who will take control.

Approval for Prosperity International Holdings' chairman Wong Ben-koon to acquire 52.4 per cent of voting shares in Asia Television leaves Taiwanese snack tycoon Tsai Eng-meng - who has battled for control of the station and was unaware of the deal - out in the cold.

After Wong's takeover of ATV, Tsai, who owns 49 per cent of the voting shares of Antenna, a company he co-owns with Payson Cha Mou-sing and Johnson Cha Mou-daid to control a remaining stake in ATV, will have little say in the television station.

The media watchdog yesterday said that on September 1, it gave approval for Wong to acquire the stakes from three existing shareholders: 10.75 per cent from Panfair Holdings owned by the Cha brothers, 26.85 per cent from Dragon Viceroy and 14.81 per cent from China Light.

The approval came as a surprise for some shareholders, as initially the prospective buyers were Wong Ching, who has served as a 'volunteer' of ATV, and Wong Ben-koon, 57, who owns three listed companies - Prosperity International in Hong Kong, Prosperity Minerals Holdings in Britain and Anhui Chaodong Cement on the mainland - investing in cement, property and mining. It was understood that Wong submitted his financial details to the authority to show that he was financially capable of funding ATV.

Tsai's camp said they were kept in the dark. Rebecca Huang Bao-huei, one of the board directors appointed by Tsai, said she had no idea about the transaction.

'Over the past two months we have demanded that Wong Ching inform the board but he said it was a private matter and could not be disclosed. We had no idea who Wong Ben-koon was.'

In a statement, Tsai's camp said it strongly objected to the transaction as no written approval had been obtained from the board. It said the board was not informed about the application for a shareholding structure change nor Wong Ching's investment details.

Tsai's camp said that yesterday one of the directors, James Shing Pan-yu, a relative of Wong Ching who was recently appointed executive director, issued a letter on behalf of ATV, saying that ATV would not repay Tsai HK$54.7 million in convertible bonds that were due to be repaid by the end of August.

'We seriously doubt if [Wong Ching] is financially strong enough to maintain ATV's sustainability,' the statement said.

Another stakeholder, Chan Wing-kee, who co-owns Dragon Viceroy with Liu Changle, said he was also kept in the dark. He did not know about the authority's approval and he did not know that Wong Ben-koon was the only buyer of his stake at the station. He said that the initial proposal was to sell the shares to Wong Ching and another person named by the property tycoon.

Wong Ching had an agreement with the Cha brothers in March to acquire their interests in Panfair as well as Antenna. The property tycoon also invested HK$200 million in ATV by purchasing the station's convertible bonds.

But Wong Ching, who has been barred from completing the share deal with the Cha brothers after a court extended an interim injunction filed by Tsai, denied that he was tied to Wong Ben-koon's acquisition.

The authority said ATV would remain a company incorporated in Hong Kong and would not be turned into a subsidiary of a corporation. The authority also emphasised that the station's free television service would still be primarily targeting Hong Kong.

Amid ongoing disputes over the broadcaster's operation, the authority had expressed concern over management of the station and had sought further information. On receiving a reply from ATV, it reminded the broadcaster of its role and duties as a free television licensee.

Meanwhile, the authority said it had completed a preliminary inquiry into ATV's complaint against TVB's alleged engagement in anti-competitive practices which would be against the Broadcasting Ordinance. The authority said it would hold a full investigation.

Controlling share

Wong Ben-koon acquires voting shares in ATV of: 52.4%