Ming Pao boss admits conviction

THE chairman of the Ming Pao newspaper publishing group, Yu Pun-hoi, late last night admitted he had been convicted of fraud and firearms offences in Canada 15 years ago, and served four months in prison.

This dramatic admission came as a climax to a day which saw reports of his offences published for the first time in Hong Kong, and the resulting suspension of the shares in Ming Pao at 2.30 pm.

Yu's future as a director of the company, and South Sea Development, where he is also chairman, now appears to be in doubt. By not declaring his previous convictions Yu is in breach of the listing regulations of the Hong Kong Stock Exchange.

A statement from Ming Pao director Paul Hui Hau-tung admitted reports of Yu's criminal past were correct.

He had been convicted in Canada of offences connected with credit cards and cheques which involved a total sum of approximately C$4,600 (HK$26,200) and on possession of a pistol, said the statement.

Later Yu, in his mid-30s, issued his own version, saying: 'When I was 20 years old studying in Canada I did use others' cheque and credit cards which involved C$4,600 and illegally possessed a gun and was sentenced to four months' imprisonment in 1979.

'The media's concern about these past events will become a regrettable development in my life. I deeply regret my behaviour in my youth and in regard to my past behaviour I have already paid for my wrongs and learnt my lesson from this.' But despite the breach of the regulations which Yu has committed, the company said last night that he would not be resigning.

'It is a view of the directors of Ming Pao and South Sea that it would be in the best interests of Ming Pao and South Sea for Yu to remain as chairman and executive director, and have so resolved.' The statement added that Yu believes he is eligible for a pardon from the Canadian authorities and will be applying for one.

However, the listing committee of the Stock Exchange is to consider what action to take.

Yesterday morning Yu was called up by the Listing Division of the Stock Exchange who wished to find out more about a report detailing his offences that appeared in the Economic Times.

Shares in Ming Pao were suspended at the company's request. On Friday they closed at $5.50.

Also frozen were trades in South Sea Development, a property company.

Ming Pao is publisher of the Ming Pao Daily, which has a circulation of about 160,000 in Hong Kong and was floated on the stock market in 1990.

Under the regulations Yu, as a director of a public company, would have been required to have declared any criminal record.

He would also have had an obligation to make a declaration at the time of two major transactions, including the deal in which the publishing group acquired a 50.7 per cent holding in South Sea Development in 1992.

This holding was built up to more than 70 per cent before a de-merger took place at the end of last year.

Head of the Stock Exchange Listing Division Herbert Hui said last night: 'If we discover that one of the directors of a listed company had withheld relevant information we would take it very, very seriously.' Under a get-tough policy, the Stock Exchange has been ready to censure directors found guilty of breaches of regulations.

Mr Hui said the listing committee, a powerful panel of experts, was now considering the situation, and he hoped that shares in the two companies would be re-quoted as soon as possible.

In more serious cases the Stock Exchange can issue a statement indicating that a director is not regarded as having sufficient integrity to be a director of a listed company. This would put intense pressure on the board of the company to take action to remove the director.