Richard Li’s sale of his 23% stake in Hong Kong telecoms operator PCCW was plunged into political intrigue when claims emerged that shareholder China Netcom vetoed foreign bids on nationalistic grounds. Now the story seems to have taken another, somewhat Oedipal, twist.
Li has said he wants minority shareholders in Singapore-listed Pacific Century Regional Developments (PCRD), through which he holds his PCCW stake, to reject the sale. The reason: the involvement of his father Li Ka-shing, Asia’s richest man, in the bid put together by banker Francis Leung.
Li junior said he was "very unhappy" that two of his father’s charitable organizations were set to take 12% of PCCW. Spain’s Telefonica will take 8% – and plans to unite this with Netcom’s stake of around 20% in a deal that will eventually see its shares exchanged for Netcom shares – while Leung holds the remainder.
Li junior, who can’t participate in the PCRD vote because of his father’s involvement in the deal, said he would now rather retain control of PCCW.
"It’s obvious that the father tried to help the son and the son didn’t appreciate it," AFP quoted one analyst as saying. "But he shouldn’t put his personal problems on the table like this and use the minority shareholders as a chip."
He is also guilty of knocking back fully-funded offers in favor of selling to a long-term friend who had neither the personal wealth nor, at the time, the financial backing to meet the US$1.17 billion price. Is it really so surprising that Leung ended up, cap in hand, at Li Ka-shing’s door?
As Li junior is discovering, it’s difficult to escape daddy’s shadow when the man in question has US$18.8 billion to throw around.