Sat, Sep 10, 2005 - Page 10 News List

State-run bank keeps quiet over bidders

PRIVATIZATION Taiwan Business Bank said it would delay announcing the winner of the bidding for the government's stake, giving rise to a frenzy of market speculation

By Amber Chung and Jackie Lin  /  STAFF REPORTERS

The state-run Taiwan Business Bank (台灣企銀) yesterday called off a board meeting and decided to delay the announcement of the winning bidder for the government's stake in the bank, saying that the Ministry of Finance had not made a final decision. The decision triggered speculation that the bidders failed to meet the ministry's requirements.

"A few bidders made offers, but the ministry is still pondering and has not made a decision yet," bank chairman Herbert Chung (鍾甦生) told striking employees outside the bank's headquarters in Taipei yesterday afternoon.

"We have therefore cancelled the ad hoc meeting of the board of directors scheduled for today [to discuss the tender result] and hope you can call it a day," Chung said. But his voice was barely heard amid strikers' shouts of "Step down! Step down!"

Taiwan Business Bank yesterday opened a tender for the sale of the government's 44 percent stake in the bank. These shares are spread between the Ministry of Finance and state-run banks including the Bank of Taiwan (台灣銀行), Land Bank of Taiwan (土地銀行), First Commercial Bank (第一銀行), Hua Nan Commercial Bank (華南銀行) and Chang Hwa Bank (彰化銀行).

Taiwan Business Bank did not disclose how many bids were received yesterday, citing confidentiality, but it has been reported that potential bidders might include Chinatrust Financial Holding Co (中信金控), E.Sun Financial Holding Co (玉山金控) and Fubon Financial Holding Co (富邦金控).

"There will be no announcement of the result today or tomorrow," said Dominic Shieh (謝新生), chief secretary of the bank's board of directors.

"But this does not mean the sale failed," he said, without elaborating.

Several rumors were circulating yesterday, including speculation that E.Sun Financial had outbid Chinatrust Financial, a government-preferred buyer, leaving the ministry in dilemma and causing the postponement.

The Ministry of Finance last night gave obscure explanations as to why Taiwan Business Bank didn't announce the result of the bidding yesterday as planned, leading to further speculation that an under-the-table deal may be involved.

"It's true that there are bidders submitting tenders today. The finance ministry will assess bidders' proposals one by one and announce the final decision as soon as possible," deputy minister Lee Ruey-tsang (李瑞倉) told a room packed with reporters at the ministry building yesterday.

He did not give a timetable for when the result will be made public, saying only that it will not take too long and stressing that the sale has not been aborted.

Saying that he did not personally play a part in the bank's privatization plan, Lee refused to detail how many bidders participated in the share-sale project.

He also firmly refused to answer questions about what the floor price for the bidding was and whether the bidders' offers exceeded the floor price.

Lee said that the ministry would examine both prices and the additional conditions bidders presented in their tender proposals.

As the ministry has the final say over this important case, the result of the bidding will not be announced until Minister of Finance Lin Chuan (林全) has weighed in on the matter, Lee added.

Lin is slated to come back this afternoon from a two-day APEC meeting of finance ministers on South Korea's Jeju Island.

In response to questions about the ongoing strike of Taiwan Business Bank employees to protest the privatization plan, Lee said only: "Stop before going too far."

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