The Economic Democracy Union yesterday urged the Ministry of Economic Affairs to block the proposed acquisition of the Apple Online news Web site by Singaporean entrepreneur Joseph Phua (潘杰賢), citing concerns over his ties with Beijing.
The think tank at a news conference in Taipei said that a major business partner of Phua is involved in businesses linked to the Chinese government.
Phua’s potential buyout of the digital tabloid — linked to Hong Kong’s shuttered Apple Daily newspaper — became an object of public scrutiny following allegations that he could be purchasing the online news outlet for Beijing.
Hsin Hai Global Co, a company Phua registered for the deal, has NT$30,000 of listed capital, which is not enough to buy the Web site, Economic Democracy Union researchers said.
That means money for the deal most likely originated from Phua’s business partner, Zhang Zhongyu (張鐘予), who co-owns Shanghai-based Turn Capital with Phua, they said.
The investment company — and by extension Zhang — has played a key role in building Phua’s business empire, Economic Democracy Union researcher Hsu Kuan-tze (許冠澤) said.
That includes Phua founding the dating Web site Paktor in 2014, buying the streaming platform 17Live in 2014 and the Taiwanese blockchain firm Dapp Pocket last year, Hsu said.
Zhang is well-known in China’s artificial intelligence (AI) sector and a partner of Lantern Capital, a company with deep ties to the Chinese Communist Party, the Chinese government and China’s People’s Liberation Army, he said.
“Zhang played an important role as the financier of Phua’s business empire and [the two] are working together as partners in Turn Capital,” he said. “Saying China has no hand in the Apple [Online] deal is absurd.”
According to the investment company’s now-deleted corporate profile, Lantern Capital is involved in financing big data, AI, external propaganda outlets and arms ranging from precision-guided munitions to armored vehicles and drones, researcher Ou Hsu-shao (歐栩韶) said.
In response, Phua issued a statement saying that his business receives no capital from the Chinese state or its affiliates, and that Zhang is not a Chinese citizen and has nothing to do with the deal to buy the Web site.
“This acquisition has given me a taste of Taiwanese democracy,” he said.
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