ATV's de facto boss Wong Ching has taken the station on a turbulent ride over the past week as he sought a new investor, but his sometimes-controversial tactics proved futile in the end, with the Executive Council rejecting the station's application to renew its free-to-air licence. Wong and his relative Wong Ben-koon, who holds the 52.4 per cent controlling stake on paper, were looking for investors to take over the troubled operation. Interested parties were invited to submit their proposals to accounting firm Deloitte by the end of January, but Wong Ching, who was said to be looking for HK$700 million, was not happy with any of the prices offered. The confusion started last Thursday, when mainland media group Caixin quoted Wong Ching as saying the station would close at the end of March as bids from potential investors were too low. ATV rebutted the interview that same day, saying the station was operating as normal and it would not close. The next day, Wong himself denied there was a March deadline. But a bigger bomb dropped on Tuesday. ATV's 6pm Chinese-language newscast announced that Wong Ching had agreed to sell his stake to HKTV boss Ricky Wong Wai-kay. The story was backed by two statements issued by ATV that night. Yesterday morning, however, HKTV said no such deal had been struck. It was followed by an announcement by Derek Lai, managing partner for Deloitte China's southern region in charge of the ATV sale. He confirmed at 11am that Wong Ching and an unnamed investor had signed a "heads of terms" - a document setting out the agreed principles during negotiations for a commercial transaction. It set out prices and conditions of the deal, to be followed by a sales and purchase agreement a month later. Peter Lam Yuk-wah, vice-president of the Hong Kong Televisioners Association, said the public had been deceived by Wong Ching and Wong Ben-koon when they announced their one-sided plan to sell their stake to Ricky Wong. "It appeared to be a scheme to push their white knight to sign the deal [straightaway]," he said. Lai, however, defended Wong Ching, saying he had only stated that he was willing to sell to Ricky Wong and not that the deal was concluded. Corporate governance activist David Webb described the turn of events as "foolish". "If you want to sell something … it is in your interest to indicate there is competition for the asset to stimulate demand. That's part of the game theory of competition," he said. But it made no sense for Wong Ching to point to Ricky Wong, someone who could easily refute the story, he added. In the end, it made little difference how Wong Ching tried to secure an investor at the eleventh hour. With Exco's refusal to renew ATV's licence, no sales agreement is likely, leaving the station to struggle financially until its demise.