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Next Media's Lai bids adieu amid takeover rumors regarding media outlets

Hong Kong media mogul Jimmy Lai (黎智英), head of Next Media Ltd., told employees at the company's Taipei headquarters yesterday that he is leaving Taiwan for good.

“This is not a place for me. I have no regrets. This is life. You try something and you have to bear the consequences. Failure is also part of life,” Lai told Taiwan Next Media employees who lined up to get his autograph and take photos with him.

When asked by a reporter from Next TV Broadcasting Ltd., Next Media's TV arm in Taiwan, whether he will come back, Lai answered in English: “I won't be back.”

“Take care, keep up the good work ... This society needs you,” Lai said as he signed autographs.

Lai's comments came hours after Formosa Plastics Group confirmed that its president, Wang Wen-yuan (王文淵), agreed to join Jeffrey Koo Jr., former vice chairman of Chinatrust Financial Holding Co., in buying the Taiwan media outlets of Next Media Ltd., a Hong Kong-based group.

“There is a deal,” said a senior executive at the Formosa Plastics Group's administrative office on condition of anonymity.

But the deal still has to be approved by the board, the executive added.

Local media reported Tuesday that Jeffrey Koo Jr. (辜仲諒), son of Chinatrust Financial Holding Co. Chairman Jeffrey Koo (辜濂松), asked Wang and a Singapore-based private equity fund to join him in buying Apple Daily, Next Magazine, Next TV and Sharp Daily for NT$17.5 billion (US$599 million).

Next Media shares were suspended on the Hong Kong Stock Exchange Tuesday after the company announced a halt to trading from 9 a.m. until the publication of “price-sensitive information” on the company's shares.

No announcement had been issued as of press time, and Next Media's Hong Kong headquarters had not commented by late Tuesday afternoon on the reported deal proposed by Koo Jr., who is now chairman of the Chinatrust Charity Foundation.

Next Media shares closed at HK$1.12 (US$0.14) on Monday. The share price of the company controlled by Lai has doubled since reports emerged late September that the firm was planning to sell off its media operations in Taiwan.

Should the deal be completed, Next Media Ltd. will have to pay over NT$100 million in compensation to a prospective buyer of Next TV Broadcasting Ltd.

Earlier this month, Next Media was in talks with Lien Tai-sheng (練台生), chairman of Taiwan-based cable and satellite TV operator ERA Communications Co., to sell its TV operation for NT$1.4 billion.

The two parties signed a memorandum of understanding, and Lien paid NT$140 million as a down payment.

If the new deal goes through, Next Media not only has to return down payment, but also pay compensation of approximately NT$140 million for breaking its agreement with Lien, according to sources familiar with the deal.

Lien has not yet commented on the situation.

King Pu-tsung (金溥聰), who is going to take over as Taiwan's representative to the U.S., yesterday refuted a report claiming that he had served as a middleman in the Next Media deal. According to the Central News Agency, King slammed the report, calling it a violation of journalistic ethics as it was based on unverified information gathered from anonymous sources. King made the comments through a friend, the CNA said.

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