Taiwan government to review Next Digital deal

Taipei--The Taiwan government will review a deal planned by Hong Kong-based media group Next Digital Ltd. to sell its magazine assets in Taiwan and if the acquisition is backed by any Chinese investor, the transaction will be blocked, the Investment Commission said Monday.

Chu Ping, a section chief of the commission, said that Next Digital plans to sell its Taiwan edition of Next Magazine, but since the magazine is part of the local publishing industry, no Chinese investment is allowed.

Chu's comments came after Next Digital announced earlier in the day that it is in talks with W Brothers Investments Ltd. to sell certain magazine assets in Hong Kong and Taiwan, including the Taiwan edition of Next Magazine, for HK$500 million (US$64.26 million).

W Brothers Investment is owned by Wee Ho, the former owner of the free newspaper Metro Daily in Hong Kong. Wee disposed of the free newspaper in early July for HK$400 million to a financial company, but said that he would buy larger-sized publications later.

Wee used to operate a restaurant business in Hong Kong before he acquired Metro Daily in 2013.

The Hong Kong media reported that Wee is an enthusiastic writer and fond of driving sports cars and travelling. The potential investor is currently on vacation in Japan with his family.

Chu said that the Ministry of Culture and the Mainland Affairs Council will look into the acquisition deal as long as Next Digital submits an application to the Investment Commission for review.

If the review finds that any Chinese funds are behind the deal, the government will turn down the application, Chu said.

Next Digital said the deal is pending further discussions with the potential buyer. The media group said it has agreed not to enter into any talks with or accept an offer from any other party for the assets until Dec. 31.

Next Digital said that only after both sides sign a binding acquisition agreement will the deal proceed. According to Next Media, W Brothers Investment has paid HK$10 million in earnest money for the deal.

In addition to Next Magazine, the deal aims to dispose of four other titles -- Sudden Weekly, Face, ME! and Next+One.

Next Digital, founded by Jimmy Lai, also publishes Apple Daily in Hong Kong and Taiwan, which is a critic of China.

Source: Overseas Community Affairs Council