Lai See

PUBLISHED : Wednesday, 21 March, 2012, 12:00am
UPDATED : Thursday, 07 May, 2015, 4:50pm


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Cheung reckons he's big enough for the challenge at Rusal

The appointment of Barry Cheung as non-executive chairman of Russian aluminium company Rusal has raised eyebrows around the world, with critics saying the job needed a strong independent chairman. 'If I thought the job was impossible, then I wouldn't have taken it on,' he told Lai See in response to those who wonder how he will be able to operate with Oleg Deripaska, who is both CEO and controlling shareholder.

But he says that as far as he can see, Deripaska has not tried to take advantage of his position with respect to other shareholders. 'In any case the other big shareholders are watching very carefully.'

But why would he want to step into a job that will inevitably be difficult? He says that it's an interesting challenge and believes the company has 'tremendous prospects'. People have said the company should have conducted a more extensive search. But Cheung said the board wanted a quick end to the uncertainty created by former chairman Viktor Vekselberg's acrimonious departure, and felt they had in Cheung someone who could do the job.

His main task will be to improve corporate governance and to make the board operations more transparent. He says the company will implement the HKEx's requirement of having one-third of the board as independent non-executive directors, this year.

People wonder whether Cheung has a conflict-of-interest issue, being chairman of the Hong Kong Mercantile Exchange and EN+, another company controlled by Deripaska having a 10 per cent investment in the HKMEx. He says Rusal's lawyers have examined the matter and assured the HKEx that Cheung's independent status is not affected. On the question of being able to stand up to the Russians, Cheung, who is well over 6 ft tall, says there aren't many Russians that are much bigger than him and when it comes to vodka, he says he can handle that part of the job as well.

Friedland rocks on as mine host

Two years ago, Robert Friedland - the rock star of the mining world - told the Hong Kong Mines and Money conference: 'Hong Kong will become the largest mining finance market in the world.'

That hasn't happened yet and a lot of people remain sceptical. But nobody gets anywhere in mining without, shall we say, a degree of flamboyance.

However, the conference which is organised by the Mining Journal and Beacon Events and is now in its fifth year, continues to grow and this year has 280 exhibitors compared with last year's 150, along with some 2,800 pre-registered delegates compared with 2,000 last year.

Friedland, the founder and CEO of Ivanhoe Mines, is giving the keynote speech as he has done for at least the last three of these conferences. He is supposed to be talking about the state of global mining, but he usually talks about Ivanhoe and its vast mine in Mongolia. But since he has guru status, nobody seems to mind.

Did parking blitz trap a tycoon?

We've been moaning about the police for not hitting the drivers of illegally parked vehicles where it hurts. But the police mounted a major blitz on Hong Kong Island yesterday, issuing 589 fixed-penalty tickets and 36 summonses. Of these, 462 were issued for illegal parking.

We'd like to think that some of these tickets were distributed to drivers of tycoon-mobiles whose habit of parking illegally outside their favourite watering holes or shopping haunts - or indeed, anywhere else that suits them - irritates the public on a daily basis.

Bank with a cross to bear

Good Lord! The bank - formally known as the Institute for Works of Religion, or IOR - has suffered the ignominy of having one of its accounts closed by JP Morgan after stonewalling requests for information, The Daily Telegraph reports. A Milan affiliate of JP Morgan said it will shut the account by the end of March after revealing Vatican bankers had been 'unable to respond' to requests for details about payments into the account.

The sanction came less than two weeks after the US State Department listed the Vatican as being potentially vulnerable to money laundering.

The Milan branch had been seeking information since 2010, when the Vatican bank was accused by authorities in Rome of contravening money laundering regulations.

Readers may recall the Vatican's association with the bankruptcy of Italy's largest private bank, the Banco Ambrosiano, in 1982. Its president, Roberto Calvi, nicknamed 'God's Banker', was found hanged beneath London's Blackfriars Bridge, with investigators unable to rule if it was suicide or murder.