Next Digital

Jimmy Lai sells rest of Taiwan assets, reports say

After making a high-profile debut 11 years ago, Next Media agrees to sell publishing assets just after disposing of its loss-making TV unit

PUBLISHED : Wednesday, 17 October, 2012, 12:00am
UPDATED : Wednesday, 17 October, 2012, 2:56am

Eleven years since establishing a high-profile media outpost in Taiwan, Jimmy Lai Chee-ying has decided to pull up stakes in the island and move on, according to reports yesterday.

Next Media, in which Lai is chairman and controlling shareholder, has agreed to sell all its newspaper and magazine holdings in Taiwan for NT$17.5 billion (HK$4.64 billion) to a consortium led by entrepreneur Jeffrey Koo, a source told the Associated Press.

Koo, the eldest son of banking mogul and Chinatrust Financial Holding chairman Koo Len-song, teamed up with Formosa Plastics Group president Wang Wen-yuan and a Singapore private equity fund in the acquisition, a senior Formosa executive told Taiwan's Central News Agency.

"There is a deal," the executive said, adding that it was still subject to board approval.

The news agency said Lai told his staff in Taiwan yesterday, "I won't be back." He said Taiwan had democracy and he did not believe it could not have a free press.

The transaction would have Lai, who is known for his anti-Beijing stand, transfer ownership of his Taiwanese publishing assets to an apparently Beijing-friendly group.

The Koo family has a number of business interests on the mainland, as do most of the leading families in the island, the AP report said.

In a filing with the Hong Kong stock exchange yesterday, Next Media chief executive Cassian Cheung Ka-sing requested that the company's shares be suspended from trading pending an announcement.

Another source told the South China Morning Post that the deal forged by the parties would be "pretty straightforward".

The assets reportedly being acquired included market-leading Taiwan Apple Daily, free paper Taiwan Sharp Daily and Taiwan Next Magazine Bundle.

The deal comes about two weeks after Next Media sold its loss-making Taiwanese television operation for an undisclosed amount to rival Era Television.

Lai's assistant, Mark Simon, said the sale was prompted by the company's failure to obtain government approval to operate a cable-television business in Taiwan.

"The Taiwan government won't let Jimmy Lai into cable," Simon said. "Jimmy crossed every stream and climbed every mountain to get a licence."

Speculation has arisen over what Lai, who expanded his media business to Taiwan in 2001, will do next after leaving that market.

VC Brokerage director Louis Tse Ming-kwong expects Lai "to be in no hurry to reinvest the money he realises from the sale of his Taiwan holdings".

Tse said the mainland was not an option for Lai, so he could look at opportunities in the United States and Europe.