Yaohan stores across Hong Kong will shut down today after the troubled retailer called in provisional liquidators. Yaohan Hongkong Corporation said last night its subsidiary, Yaohan Department Store (HK), had applied to the High Court to be wound up because it could not pay its debts. The move, which throws into doubt the future of 2,700 staff, follows a series of legal actions launched by the group's suppliers in recent weeks. At least 19 writs demanding more than $15 million have been lodged with the High Court this month. Yaohan, owned by the Japanese Wada family, has nine department stores in the SAR and one in Macau. The Hong Kong stores are in Ma On Shan, Yuen Long, Sha Tin, Tuen Mun, Tsuen Wan, Hunghom, Lam Tin, Tin Shui Wai and Tseung Kwan O. The winding-up application resulted in the appointment of three representatives of accounting firm Ernst & Young as provisional liquidators. But last night Yaohan Hongkong Corporation's largest shareholder, Yaohan International Holdings (YIH), raised the prospect of a potential rescue, saying it had been approached by Citic Australia and China Venturetech Investment Corporation. YIH said the discussions were 'at a very preliminary stage and there is no certainty they will be concluded successfully.' Citic Australia is controlled by the mainland State Council-owned Citic Beijing while China Venturetech is also backed by the Beijing Government. They own 7.5 per cent and 3.5 per cent of YIH respectively. Yaohan Hongkong Corporation, which, like YIH, is listed on the local stock exchange, has been losing money since 1995 and has been selling assets to raise cash. But its woes have become more serious in recent months as turmoil has hit Asia's financial markets. In September, Yaohan Japan was declared insolvent with 161.3 billion yen in debts (HK$9.79 billion) after over-expansion led to soaring debt. Yaohan Japan owns no shares in Yaohan Hongkong Corporation but together the two companies form the major part of the Wada retail empire. Early last year, YIH announced it was moving its headquarters from Hong Kong to Shanghai, where it set up the Nextage Department Store, once described as Asia's largest. Cheng Nai-yan, a spokesman for the Hong Kong Department Store and Commercial Staff General Union, said the closure could herald a series of retail trade redundancies. He expected retail workers to receive lower bonuses this year and was pessimistic about pay rises. Yaohan staff said the company had not explained the closure or offered any compensation. 'We have not been given any written notice of the closure. They just told us to go home and wait for the news,' one employee said.