Fortune frowns on he who dares to criticise

As Hong Kong marches towards a future under Chinese rule, who's in and who's out? The omens are not good for those who want to kick against the pricks.

Jimmy Lai, publisher of the outspoken Apple Daily newspaper, yesterday suffered a financial blow when the chief underwriter of a planned share issue pulled out. His Next media group - which owns Hong Kong's most popular weekly, and Apple Daily, the fastest-growing newspaper in the British colony - has been publicly critical of China for some time. This time, such criticism seems to have cost it dearly.

Yeung Wai-hong, the group chairman, said that Next approached a dozen merchant bankers to underwrite the flotation, and most stayed out. Mr Yeung said one cited political reasons while another said it first wanted to consult Chinese representatives in Hong Kong.

Mr Yeung said that the lead underwriter, Sun Hung Kai International Ltd, told Next that it was pulling out. A spokesperson for the company said the decision was purely commercial. But the message is clear: Peking doesn't like Mr Lai.

He probably knew that already. In 1994 he published an editorial that called the Chinese premier Li Peng a "moron". Shortly afterwards, Mr Lai's clothing store hit licensing problems in China and his Peking store was closed.

Hong Kong (AP) - The Hong Kong retailer Dickson Concepts announced yesterday it has prepared an offer to take over the New York retailer Barney's for $240m (pounds 150m). Dickson controls a number of fashion brands in Hong Kong, and owns the Harvey Nichols Group.

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