Of the NT$17.5 billion (US$601.23 million) offered by a consortium headed by Chinatrust Charity Foundation chairman Jeffrey Koo Jr (辜仲諒) to buy four media outlets in the Next Media Group (壹傳媒集團), up to NT$9 billion came from Want Want China Times Group (旺旺中時集團) chairman Tsai Eng-meng (蔡衍明), the Chinese-language Wealth Magazine reported in its latest edition yesterday.
If the report is confirmed, it is a surprising development as Next Media Group chairman Jimmy Lai (黎智英) said in an interview with the Apple Daily published on Oct. 18 that he had decided to finalize the sale of the four media outlets after ensuring that none of the funding came from Tsai.
Next Media, in an announcement filed to the Hong Kong Stock Exchange on Oct. 17, confirmed that it had signed a memorandum of understanding with Koo, who has agreed to purchase the Apple Daily, the Sharp Daily, Next Magazine and Next TV.
Koo’s co-investors in the deal include Formosa Plastics Group (台塑集團) chairman William Wong (王文淵) and a Singapore-based private equity firm.
Asked for comment on Wealth Magazine’s report, National Communications Commission (NCC) spokesperson Yu Hsiao-cheng (虞孝成) said the commission had not officially received that information and therefore he was unable to comment on the matter.
According to the report, at a recent meeting held between Next Media Group officials and representatives from Koo’s consortium held to finalize the deal, Tsai Eng-meng showed up unexpectedly, startling Next Media Group officials.
The report said Chinatrust, in the hope that the deal could be completed smoothly, had requested that Tsai keep a low profile. However, Tsai was not happy about having to downplay his role, the report said, adding that during the meeting Tsai bellowed: “I’m the one who put up the most money, why can’t I say something?”
When an official reminded Tsai that if his role was revealed, the NCC may rule against him in a review of his purchase of a TV network, the report quoted Tsai as replying: “I don’t want the TV network.”
The Apple Daily declined to comment on the report, with the paper’s executive editor-in-chief Ma Wei-min (馬維敏) and Next Magazine publisher Pei Wei (裴偉) saying that Chinatrust has denied that Tsai is an investor in the consortium.
Apple Daily Workers’ Union president Tsai Jih-yun (蔡日雲) said the union would not comment on the allegations without seeing solid evidence.
In light of the Wealth Magazine report, a number of activists expressed concern about monopolization of Taiwanese media, which is increasingly being concentrated in the hands of a few tycoons.
They called on the Financial Supervisory Commission to investigate the sources of the funding in the Next Media Group bid and demanded that the NCC review any deal in a rigorous manner if indeed Tsai is the main player bankrolling the purchase.
Anti-Media Monster Youth Alliance spokesperson Lin Fei-fan (林飛帆) said although the report has not been confirmed, there had been speculation that Tsai may be among the investors.
“Tsai has utilized the China Times to promote and espouse his views and the policies of China. We are very worried that China will in the future [effectively] control more of Taiwan’s news outlets,” he said.