The Fair Trade Commission yesterday said it had not received a buyout application for the Next Media Group (壹傳媒集團), nearly one month after the Hong Kong-based company confirmed plans to sell its Taiwanese operations for NT$17.5 billion (US$601.3 million).
Spokesman Sun Lih-chyun (孫立群) said the commission has the authority to intervene if the buyers of the group’s print and TV businesses in Taiwan were to proceed with the buyout without submitting an application and gaining approval from the commission.
While the commission cannot take any action now, “there is a four-month deadline for the buyout, so time is on our side,” Sun said at a press conference.
Sun’s remark came two days after the Hong Kong company disclosed in a stock exchange filing that it would sell its Taiwanese print assets — Chinese-language Apple Daily (Taiwan) (台灣蘋果日報), Sharp Daily (台灣爽報) and Next Magazine (壹週刊) — for NT$16 billion and Next TV Broadcasting Ltd (壹電視) for NT$1.5 billion.
The filing said the completion of the deal would be conditional on the fulfillment of the buyout of Next Media’s print media subsidiaries, and if the sale agreement of Next Media’s print group is not fulfilled within four months, the prospective buyers have the right to cancel the deal.
According to the filing submitted to the Hong Kong Stock Exchange late on Wednesday, Formosa Plastics Group (FPG, 台塑集團) chairman William Wong (王文淵) will acquire 34 percent of Next Media’s print assets, followed by Want Want Times Group (旺旺中時集團) president Tsai Shao-chung (蔡紹中) with 32 percent, Chinatrust Charity Foundation (中信慈善基金會) chairman Jeffrey Koo Jr (辜仲諒) with 20 percent and Lung Yen Life Service Corp (龍巖集團) chairman David Lee (李世聰) with 14 percent.
The filing said that buyers of Next TV are Wong with a 34 percent share, Koo with 20 percent and Lee with 14 percent, while Taiwan Fire & Marine Insurance Co (台灣產物保險) chairman Steve Lee’s (李泰宏) son, Lee Jiang-cheng (李建成), will hold 32 percent.
In response to criticism that the commission has not been fully transparent with its review process, Sun said the commission could not disclose the information provided by the companies involved, adding that it would also not be suitable to make it clear to Next Media’s buyers how they could circumvent the government’s regulatory review.
Asked whether the commission would call a public hearing with the all prospective investors in the Next Media deal participating, Sun said it was an option that the commission would consider.
However, the commission would have to notify participants 30 days before the hearing, but it only has 60 days to review the case, Sun said. Moreover, a public hearing on the case would be nothing more than a means for the commission to gather opinions, he added.
As for whether Apple Daily and Next Magazine should be considered as two products targeting the same market, Sun said the preliminary conclusion is that they target two different markets.