The buyer group for private equity fund MBK Partners’ Taiwan cable television business said on Monday it might have to pull out of the $2.4 billion deal because of delays in the regulatory approval that it said had cost it an extra $300 million.
At an often raucous public hearing, the buyer group urged the regulator to make up its mind on a deal that has made little progress since it was agreed in late 2010, a delay that could dent Taiwan’s reputation among foreign investors.
“The stalling of a decision has cost us another T$10 billion ($342 million) payment to MBK,” Chao Yu-pei, spokesman for the buyer, conglomerate Want Want China Holdings (0151.HK), told Reuters at the hearing.
“It has caused a big loss for us and it might lead to contract termination because the deadline will pass.”
Chao declined to give details of or the reason for the extra cost.
MBK agreed to sell China Network Systems (CNS) to media and manufacturing group Want Want in October 2010, looking to offload a company it had bought in 2007 for $1.5 billion.
Already bogged down in Taiwan’s notoriously labyrinthine regulatory processes, the deal hit a fresh obstacle after Want Want Chair Tsai Yen-ming told the Washington Post in January he wanted China and Taiwan to unify quickly, and said he thought not many people died in the 1989 Tiananmen protests in Beijing.
The remarks raised the hackles of regulators acutely sensitive to mainland influence in democratic Taiwan’s media, and came amid wider public concern in Taiwan over allegations some newspapers promote China with favourable news stories.
Taiwan bans mainland entities from its media industry, wary of China’s stated aim of taking back the self-ruled island it regards as a renegade province.
Want Want gets about 90 percent of its revenues from China, where it is one of the biggest rice cake makers. It is also one of Taiwan’s top TV and print media groups, owning the China Times daily newspaper and the CtiTV cable station.
It has faced increased scrutiny over its China connections and there have been public calls for a boycott of the China Times after Tsai’s interview. Others have raised concern the group may have too much influence if it is allowed to buy CNS.
At Monday’s hearing, Tsai faced several dozen hecklers.
“We are opposed to the merger, which could have Want Want become an unprecedented media monster in Taiwan,” said Chen Xiao-yi, president of the Association of Taiwan Journalists.
Tsai fired back, asking the regulator to let him speak directly and at length with his accusers at the hearing in what he called “a war to defend my reputation”.
“Many people said I am related to Chinese funds. That’s not true,” Tsai said, telling the hecklers to be quiet.
“I started my business in China at 35 and have been there for over 20 years. I’ve hardly met any top Chinese officials since.”
MBK’s co-founder and Greater China chief, K.C. Kung, called for a quick resolution, noting the damage to Taiwan’s reputation among investors, one that has already taken a knock due to other foreign deals being held up by regulators.
“NCC has not made a decision for a long time, seriously hurting foreign investor confidence. Foreign investors are also worried they will not protected under the law for future investments,” Kung said.
Taiwan’s regulators have a long antipathy toward private equity firms, seeing them as focusing on quick profits rather than the long-term health and stability of firms they invest in.