PREMIER Li Peng has criticised officials over the sale of domestic corporate shares in the Shanghai-listed Beijing Lightbus to two Japanese companies. One of the key targets of the Ninth Five-Year Plan is to prevent the draining away of state assets. A circular has been issued to the National Administrative Bureau of State-Owned Property and related departments demanding a stop to similar sales of state-owned assets to foreigners until regulations can be drawn up. Property transactions between state enterprises will continue as usual. Mr Li strongly criticised officials from the bureau for not handling the case properly during an internal meeting, sources said. 'All state-owned enterprises belong to the State Council,' an informed source quoted Mr Li as saying. 'The bureau cannot represent the State Council and should not be allowed to turn the house into a mess,' the Prime Minister said. Japan's Isuzu Motors and Itochu Corp started negotiations with Beijing Lightbus in May. In August, they said they had jointly acquired 25 per cent of company equity - more than 40 million shares in the form of corporate shares - pending approval. They won approval for the deal from the China Securities Regulatory Commission. Their proposal to change the firm's status from a Chinese-listed firm to a Sino-Japanese joint-venture with the two Japanese companies as the biggest shareholder was later approved by the Ministry of Foreign Trade and Economic Co-operation. Yasuhisa Kijima of Isuzu Motors was elected general manager of Beijing Lightbus at a shareholders' meeting last Wednesday, becoming the first foreigner to be general manager of a listed Chinese firm. There are now four Japanese directors, including Mr Kijima, on the board. Foreigners have not been allowed to buy corporate or 'legal person' shares in listed Chinese companies. Many of these corporate shares are held by government bodies and state-owned enterprises, and cannot be traded on stock exchange markets. Foreign investors have therefore been confined to hard-currency B shares listed on the Shanghai and Shenzhen exchanges. Informed officials said Mr Li was angry that Beijing Lightbus, 'a Chinese company of good performance and future potential', was being swallowed up by two foreign firms. The Prime Minister is also worried by the fact that several other Japanese and American car corporations have their eyes on some listed firms such as Jiangling Motors Corp and Jinbei Automotive. It is believed Mr Li wants to make sure the Lightbus deal will not lead to the loss of other state assets through similar purchases by foreign firms.