Vultures close in on media whizz-kid


Hong Kong

Hong Kong whizz-kid Yu Pun-hoi had it all. At the age of 33 he won control of Ming Pao, one of the most famous newspapers in the Chinese-speaking world, he had investments in property, hotels and retailing, and had ambitions to become the Ted Turner of Chinese-language broadcasting. Now, at 37, Mr Yu's world is falling apart.

Not only is he likely to loose control of Ming Pao, but the foundations of his other investments are looking increasingly shaky.

In the past week the Ming Pao Enterprise company, in which Mr Yu holds a 43.2 per cent controlling interest, has seen its auditors querying the accounts, had its shares suspended and suffered the humiliation of its bankers calling an emergency meeting to establish the security of their loans. Now talks are underway for Mr Yu to sell his stake.

In the space of just four years Mr Yu has come a long way from being "Yu Pun-hoi who ?", as one newspaper headline put it, to being "that man with the criminal record who was forced to step down from the chairmanship of Ming Pao".

It is still not entirely clear why Louis Cha, Ming Pao's founder, decided to sell control to Mr Yu in 1991. Chinese readers throughout the world know him for his kung-fu novels, and China's paramount leader Deng Xiaoping is one of his fans. As Yu Pun-hoi tells it, he managed to engage Mr Cha's interest with a cold call after realising that he was thinking of retirement and looking for a successor.

Mr Yu did not wait long to launch some ambitious projects under the Ming Pao umbrella. He thought he could create an international 24-hour Chinese language news service along the lines of Ted Turner's CNN. Some US$20m was earmarked for start up costs but the project has been largely stillborn.

Even more disastrous was the launch of a tabloid daily called Hong Kong Today, which swallowed up over HK$60 million (about pounds 6m) before being shut last year. It lasted only seven months.

Mr Yu claimed to have impeccable connections in China, after developing a number of hotel and property developments there. It looked as though he would be among the chosen few able to use these connections to pursue his publishing interests. A stake was acquired in the Guangzhou-based Modern Mankind magazine, which was seen as a forerunner of a number of Chinese projects. But last December the magazine was forced to close by the authorities.

Earlier in the year Ming Pao reporter Xi Yang was jailed for twelve years for allegedly stealing state secrets. Mr Yu's handling of this disaster achieved the rare distinction of angering both the Chinese authorities and his own staff, who were furious over Mr Yu's claim of Mr Xi's guilt.

Worse was to come: a newspaper report revealed that Mr Yu had acquired a criminal record while studying in Canada and been convicted of credit card fraud and possession of an unlicensed weapon. In the fallout he was forced to resign as chairman of Ming Pao, his place being taken by the Singaporean wheeler-dealer Oei Hong-leong.

Earlier this year Mr Oei was advocating that Mr Yu resume his post, but his views are becoming increasingly academic. First, it became known that Mr Yu had failed to pay an instalment due to Mr Cha for his shares in Ming Pao, then rumours swirled around the market as the company failed to file accounts on time.

The delay was caused by the auditors' inability to satisfy themselves about the security of loans totalling HK$300 million, nearly 30 per cent of the company's share capital.

At a meeting last week bankers received some explanation for the unsecured loans, although the identity of the Chinese borrowers and their relationship with Mr Yu is obscure. It is hard to know what is really happening with Mr Yu, but two things are clear: he badly needs money and the vultures are moving in to relieve him of his stake in a company which retains a high reputation, despite his efforts.

Start your day with The Independent, sign up for daily news emails
ebooksA special investigation by Andy McSmith
  • Get to the point
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

iJobs Job Widget
iJobs Money & Business

Recruitment Genius: Client Services Assistant

£18000 - £20000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: A Client Services Assistant is ...

Ashdown Group: Junior Application Support Analyst - Fluent German Speaker

£25000 - £30000 per annum + benefits: Ashdown Group: A global leader operating...

Ashdown Group: Training Coordinator - Financial Services

£32000 - £38000 per annum + benefits: Ashdown Group: A highly successful, inte...

Recruitment Genius: Business Development Executive - Affiliates & Partnerships

£20000 - £35000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: This multi-award winning foreig...

Day In a Page

No postcode? No vote

Floating voters

How living on a houseboat meant I didn't officially 'exist'
Louis Theroux's affable Englishman routine begins to wear thin

By Reason of Insanity

Louis Theroux's affable Englishman routine begins to wear thin
Power dressing is back – but no shoulderpads!

Power dressing is back

But banish all thoughts of Eighties shoulderpads
Spanish stone-age cave paintings 'under threat' after being re-opened to the public

Spanish stone-age cave paintings in Altamira 'under threat'

Caves were re-opened to the public
'I was the bookies’ favourite to be first to leave the Cabinet'

Vince Cable interview

'I was the bookies’ favourite to be first to leave the Cabinet'
Election 2015: How many of the Government's coalition agreement promises have been kept?

Promises, promises

But how many coalition agreement pledges have been kept?
The Gaza fisherman who built his own reef - and was shot dead there by an Israeli gunboat

The death of a Gaza fisherman

He built his own reef, and was fatally shot there by an Israeli gunboat
Saudi Arabia's airstrikes in Yemen are fuelling the Gulf's fire

Saudi airstrikes are fuelling the Gulf's fire

Arab intervention in Yemen risks entrenching Sunni-Shia divide and handing a victory to Isis, says Patrick Cockburn
Zayn Malik's departure from One Direction shows the perils of fame in the age of social media

The only direction Zayn could go

We wince at the anguish of One Direction's fans, but Malik's departure shows the perils of fame in the age of social media
Young Magician of the Year 2015: Meet the schoolgirl from Newcastle who has her heart set on being the competition's first female winner

Spells like teen spirit

A 16-year-old from Newcastle has set her heart on being the first female to win Young Magician of the Year. Jonathan Owen meets her
Jonathan Anderson: If fashion is a cycle, this young man knows just how to ride it

If fashion is a cycle, this young man knows just how to ride it

British designer Jonathan Anderson is putting his stamp on venerable house Loewe
Number plates scheme could provide a licence to offend in the land of the free

Licence to offend in the land of the free

Cash-strapped states have hit on a way of making money out of drivers that may be in collision with the First Amendment, says Rupert Cornwell
From farm to fork: Meet the Cornish fishermen, vegetable-growers and butchers causing a stir in London's top restaurants

From farm to fork in Cornwall

One man is bringing together Cornwall's most accomplished growers, fishermen and butchers with London's best chefs to put the finest, freshest produce on the plates of some of the country’s best restaurants
Robert Parker interview: The world's top wine critic on tasting 10,000 bottles a year, absurd drinking notes and New World wannabes

Robert Parker interview

The world's top wine critic on tasting 10,000 bottles a year, absurd drinking notes and New World wannabes
Don't believe the stereotype - or should you?

Don't believe the stereotype - or should you?

We exaggerate regional traits and turn them into jokes - and those on the receiving end are in on it too, says DJ Taylor