The HK$4.7 billion deal for the sale of publishing tycoon Jimmy Lai Chee-ying's Next Media holdings in Taiwan was put on hold yesterday, hours before it was supposed to have been sealed.
A row over payment and shareholding issues saw the signing postponed until later this month, although no new date has been set. It comes after the surprising news that Lai's bitter adversary Tsai Eng-meng is part of the consortium of buyers.
"Lai has asked for the payment to be made in one go, but the Taiwanese parties have insisted that it should be made in instalments instead," a Next Media source involved in the negotiations said.
The source also said the question of who would sign the deal was also an issue.
Last month Taiwanese entrepreneur Jeffrey Koo Jnr, the eldest son of the banking mogul Jeffrey Koo Len-song, the chairman of Chinatrust Financial Holdings, signed a memorandum of understanding for the purchase of Next Media's Taiwan print and TV assets, including the Taiwan editions of Apple Daily and Next Magazine, with the backing of Wang Wen-yuan, president of Formosa Plastics Group, and a Singaporean private equity fund.
But it came as a shock to Lai that Tsai, chairman and chief executive of the Taiwanese snack food to media conglomerate Want Want Holdings, was behind the Singaporean fund.
Lai said he only agreed the deal after checking that Tsai, who took a Beijing loyalist stance, was not involved.
Tsai owns several Taiwan print media and TV stations, and if he took a controlling stake at Next Media's Taiwanese outlets, it would make him the biggest operator in that media market. The source said Tsai would not hold the controlling stake.
Talks over who should be the deal's representatives stems from a Taiwan's Financial Supervisory Commission requirement, the source said. It says Jeffrey Koo Jnr cannot hold more than 20 per cent of the company.
Kuei Hsien-nung, director general of the commission's Banking Bureau, said: "We are firm in our position that no financial institutions can cross that boundary."
Koo argued he did not hold any position or stake in his name at Chinatrust Financial Holdings, but he does head its charity foundation. But Kuei said Koo was still closely linked to Chinatrust, as his father controls the company.