The vote by minority shareholders in PCCW to accept privatisation has become the latest chapter of a sorry saga in Hong Kong's corporate history. It should have brought closure of a kind to the long-suffering victims of a stock-market debacle. But it may not be over yet, despite the failure of some shareholders to delay the vote pending a full investigation of allegations of a plot to manipulate the result. The Securities and Futures Commission is now looking into claims of shareholder vote-buying to secure the privatisation. If the allegations are true, those responsible should be held to account, for the sake of Hong Kong's reputation as a credible centre of international finance. Yesterday's attempt by minority shareholders of PCCW to block the privatisation move is the latest example of investors becoming more aware of their rights and willing to defend them. PCCW said this week it had no knowledge of improper share transfers and would co-operate fully with the SFC. Nonetheless, this sends a strong signal to management of public companies that the rules should be scrupulously observed. Otherwise, they can also expect political scrutiny, as shown by the active involvement of lawmakers from across the political spectrum on behalf of Lehman Brothers' minibonds investors - and again on behalf of shareholders yesterday. Legislator Starry Lee Wai-king, a rising star of the Beijing-friendly DAB, was present after being approached by an investor over the vote-buying allegations. In the case of PCCW shareholders, perhaps some dreamed of a return to the heady days when chairman Richard Li Tzar-kai acquired Cable and Wireless HKT during the dot.com boom in 2000 for HK$296 billion. They may have hung on to shares in Hong Kong's dominant telecoms company out of sentiment, in the hope of a recovery or an offer of a higher premium, rather than sell out and realise their losses long ago. In the end, they will get HK$4.50 a share, 96 per cent less than the high of HK$131 nine years ago, valuing PCCW at HK$15.9 billion. To rub salt in their wounds, the two major shareholders, Mr Li's Singapore-listed Pacific Century Regional Development and China Unicom Group, reportedly will collect dividends after the privatisation amounting to HK$1.7 billion more than they paid for it. And analysts have said they would not be surprised if, when the market recovers, they sell off PCCW's business to private equity firms or trade-buyers for a substantial profit. The management of PCCW has left a lot to be desired, beginning with the way the acquisition was financed, which left it vulnerable to the downturn. Less than 18 months after the acquisition, with the shares down more than 90 per cent, shareholders agreed to a five-to-one consolidation. Mr Li unsuccessfully attempted an exit in 2006 in an episode that raised questions about political interference and corporate governance. The mainland shareholder opposed competing offers for key PCCW assets from an Australian investment bank and US buyout firm, reflecting Beijing's opposition to what it saw as a strategic asset falling into foreign hands. Mr Li in return rejected an offer from a white knight to block the foreign bids after he discovered his father, Li Ka-shing, was one of the backers. Now that his bid to privatise PCCW has been approved, the younger Mr Li has, again, proven himself to be a shrewd dealer with a very good sense of timing in capturing value for himself and his allies. But he will also be remembered by hundreds of thousands of small shareholders who have failed to profit.