Li vows to stay ‘committed as ever’

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Richard Li, PCCW’s chairman, insisted on Thursday he was “as committed as ever” to the company, despite failing for the second time in five months to sever his links with Hong Kong’s leading telecoms operator.

His comments came as minority shareholders in PCCW’s Singapore-listed parent on Thursday rejected the proposed $1.2bn sale of a controlling stake in the company.

The sale was opposed by 76 per cent of the votes cast by minority shareholders of Pacific Century Regional Developments, at a special meeting in Singapore.

The rejection of the offer by a consortium including tycoon Li Ka-shing and Spain’s Telefónica ruins months of delicate and controversial financial engineering by some of Asia’s most powerful businessmen and bankers.

Analysts said that the collapse of the deal raised questions over what Richard Li, who is Li Ka-shing’s son, will do next with PCCW.

Richard Li controls 75 per cent of PCRD’s shares but was barred from casting a ballot because his father was part of the consortium that had offered HK$6 a PCCW share for PCRD’s 23 per cent stake.

Richard Li’s absence from the vote left PCCW’s fate in the hands of a highly fractured group of minority shareholders who control about a fifth of its share capital.

“The sale price of PCCW was undervalued,” James Hong, a PCRD shareholder, said after the vote.

Richard Li’s refusal to commit to plans to distribute the proceeds of the stake sale to minority shareholders appeared to play a significant role in the rejection.

But, angered by the late emergence of his father as a key member of the buying consortium, Richard Li said last week that he would be “happy” if PCRD shareholders rejected the sale.

Francis Leung, a prominent Hong Kong investment banker with close ties to Li Ka-shing who led the buying consortium, said that it was “unfortunate that certain recent media reports have caused confusion among minority shareholders as to the . . . overwhelming benefits of the transaction”.

Richard Li originally attempted to exit PCCW in the summer by selling its core assets for $7bn to either Australia’s Macquarie Bank or Texas Pacific Group, the US buy-out group.

Both offers were blocked by senior Chinese officials and China Netcom, a state-controlled telecoms group that owns 20 per cent of PCCW, on nationalistic grounds. An FT investigation established this week that foreign groups backed off after Liao Hui, head of the State Council’s Hong Kong and Macao Affairs Office, and departmental colleagues signalled their opposition to executives close to the deals.

Senior bankers in Hong Kong said on Thursday that Richard Li could yet revive a deal with private equity firms or strategic buyers.

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