Clarity in Next Digital future sought

Top News | Staff reporter 17 May 2021

Former Hong Kong leader Leung Chun-ying is urging the Next Digital board to clarify misgivings of minority shareholders after the government froze jailed tycoon Jimmy Lai Chee-ying's shares in the Apple Daily publisher.

Leung said questions that minority shareholders are posing include how Lai's imprisonment will affect Next Digital's business, whether Lai's capability to fund Next Digital will be affected by the freezing of his assets, and how the board views the rumor that Apple Daily will be outlawed before July 1.

Others concern how the board is evaluating the possibility of a compulsory resumption of Next Digital's office in Tseung Kwan O and the impact of relocation on operations and costs, and whether there are changes in the management team and the suppliers and banks that deal with Next Digital.

The government has frozen Lai's shares in Next Digital and the bank accounts of three companies he owns.

Also, the Taiwan arm of the media outlet said on Friday that it will scrap the print edition of its newspaper tomorrow.

Lai has provided HK$756 million unsecured loans to Next Digital between November 2018 and November 2020.

"As a Hongkonger who has been enjoying reading Taiwan newspapers since 1988, every time I meet some new friends from Taiwan, I apologize to them for Next Media's corrupting of Taiwan society," Leung said.

Leung predicted that Next Digital will halt trading today. He also asked whether Next Digital is "really a news organization."

If Next Digital fails to reassure the market in time, a panic sell-off in its shares could ensue and prices may fall below 10 HK cents, said Christopher Cheung Wah-fung, a legislator representing financial services. Lai holds a 71.26 percent stake in Next Digital as of December 29 and the shares were worth HK$356.94 million as of Friday.

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