prince richard's sniffle over pccw spices up lengthy corporate drama Richard Li Tzar-kai's latest stunt - putting out the word that he's not happy with the 'political' PCCW deal brokered by his father - is as inexplicable as Zinedine Zidane's head-butt in football's World Cup final. Long-suffering investors in PCCW are completely at sea, wondering who - the father or the son - will be running the firm after PCRD's minority owners meet next Thursday in Singapore to vote on the sale of the controlling stake in the phone company to the elder Li's charitable foundation and Spain's Telefonica. Nothing that Lai See has learned about Chinese culture and family dynamics offers the slightest insight into what motivates the 40-year-old princeling. 'He must have been a very difficult child,' observed a newsroom colleague with a gift for understatement. Business scribes are already booking their tickets for Singapore. Will PCRD's meeting be the final curtain in the year's longest-running corporate soap opera or just the cue for another scene change? sfc deals a double wallop If you ever decide to take a shot at the Securities and Futures Commission, be careful not to miss. The securities regulator yesterday won its first-ever bankruptcy order against an unsuccessful litigant. After having his dealing licence revoked and being banned from the securities industry for 10 years, Joie Lau Hing-hung challenged the penalty before the Securities and Futures Appeals Tribunal. Not only was his appeal dismissed, he was handed a HK$305,914.90 bill representing the SFC's legal costs, on which he failed to make good. 'The SFC does not subsidise unsuccessful litigants and will seek to recover its costs when costs are awarded,' said Mark Steward, the regulator's executive director of enforcement. 'Those against whom we take action and successfully obtain costs orders should understand that the SFC will enforce those orders when those costs are not paid.' So, there. independent not just in name So far, the independent directors of newly listed Shui On Land are living up to their name. At the first board meeting since Vincent Lo Hong-sui's group completed its stock offering, the seven independents, sitting without the executive directors in attendance, voted down proposals to buy two buildings from the parent firm. Heeding the counsel of financial adviser BNP Paribas, they voted not to exercise options to acquire Shui On Plaza in Shanghai or Centrepoint in Guangzhou. It was Shui On Land's heavy gearing, rather than the price of the assets, that persuaded them against the purchase. Shui On Land's independent directors include former HSBC chairman John Bond, Li & Fung managing director William Fung Kwok-lun, Legislative Council member Leung Chun-ying and former stock exchange chairman Edgar Cheng Wai-kin. If people of that stature can't stand on their own two feet, there's not much hope for anybody else. 18 triggers a sinking feeling Is 18 a lucky number in China? Yesterday, Lai See (who let it be said is not an SFC-registered investment adviser) facetiously recommended that readers consider buying shares in the initial public offering of Zhaojin Mining. It was because Zhaojin's stock code 1818 sounds like 'sure prosperity' in Chinese. Advice of this sort often has some influence in Hong Kong, but perhaps Shanghai superstition is of a different sort. A Shanghai reader writes to say in some of the city's new residential blocks the 18th floor is missing. 'People think the number 18 is unlucky because of an old saying, 'They sink to the 18th layer of hell when taking the lift from the 18th floor'.'