Government to strictly review buyers of Apple Online: official

06/09/2022 09:01 PM
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The Apple Online mobile application. CNA file photo
The Apple Online mobile application. CNA file photo

Taipei, June 9 (CNA) Apple Online, the sister website of Hong Kong's now-defunct Apple Daily newspaper, has a new owner, but the deal depends on approval from the government of Taiwan and whether any Chinese capital was involved in the purchase.

Apple Online announced Wednesday that the company has been sold and the handover completed, ending months of merger-and-acquisition rumors about its future.

It has been widely reported by local media that Joseph Phua (潘杰賢), a Singaporean entrepreneur who co-founded 17LIVE -- a giant live streaming platform in Asia -- and Hong Kong businessman Kenny Wee (黃浩) are the company's new owners.

Media reports cited unnamed sources within Apple Online, but the company has not yet confirmed the news.

Apple Online said in a statement issued Wednesday that the identity of the new owner, chairman and executive chair will be announced "later."

The change in ownership at Apple Online will be subject to "strict scrutiny" by related government agencies, Mainland Affairs Council (MAC) spokesperson Chiu Chui-cheng (邱垂正) said at a regular news conference Thursday.

Under current laws, media firms in Taiwan are banned from accepting any investment from China, while investments from other countries, Hong Kong and Macau are subject to different ceilings that vary depending on the type of media.

The takeover of Apple Online has reignited concerns among social activists that the company could be used by the Chinese authorities to infiltrate Taiwan's media.

Lai Chung-chiang (賴中強), head of the Economic Democracy Union, a think tank that focuses on cross-Taiwan Strait economic issues, called on the government to investigate whether any of the money involved was "Chinese investment in disguise."

Other question include whether the new owners will sell data or other materials concerning "private information" to the Chinese authorities, which would pose a threat to the national security of Taiwan, Lai said in a statement.

Asked to respond, Chiu said Apple Online needs to answer such questions, adding that the government will closely review the case in accordance with related laws.

Apple Online was owned by the Hong Kong-based Next Digital group founded by media tycoon Jimmy Lai (黎智英), one of the most high-profile critics of the Chinese government over its suppression of the pro-democracy movement in Hong Kong.

Lai was charged under Hong Kong's National Security Law imposed by Beijing for attending pro-democracy protests in 2019 and is currently in prison.

The Hong Kong version of Apple Daily owned by Next Digital group was forced to shut down in June last year after some of the newspaper's executives and journalists were arrested and the company's financial assets frozen for allegedly breaking the law.

The Next Digital group decided to stop publishing the Taiwan version of Apple Daily in May last year, citing continuous losses as readers and advertisement revenues migrated to digital media and focused on Apple Online, which operates as a financially independent affiliate of the group.

Apple Online currently has 130 employees.

Ip Yut-kin(葉一堅), legal representative for the group's Taiwan subsidiary, said most of Apple Online's employees will be transferred to the new employer, but the labor union indicated it has been informed of planned layoffs by the new owners.

(Shen Peng-ta, Yeh Kuan-yin and Shih Hsiu-chuan)Enditem/AW

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