July 19, 2007 / 6:41 AM / 13 years ago

Tycoon David Li may face charges in Dow Jones probe

HONG KONG (Reuters) - Bank of East Asia Chairman and CEO David Li, who may face charges in an insider trading probe linked to News Corp.’s $5 billion (2.4 billion pound) bid for Dow Jones , is one of Hong Kong’s highest-profile citizens, and one of its best-connected.

Bank of East Asia Chairman and CEO David Li (pictured here in a file photo), who may face charges in an insider trading probe linked to News Corp.'s $5 billion (2.4 billion pound) bid for Dow Jones , is one of Hong Kong's highest-profile citizens, and one of its best-connected. REUTERS

The urbane banker, who is a Dow Jones DJ.N board member and scion of one of Hong Kong’s most prominent families, stands out in a city where many of his fellow tycoons are self-made men with hardscrabble roots in mainland China.

Born in London and educated at Cambridge, Li is the consummate Hong Kong insider, serving as a member of the Chinese territory’s Legislative Council and holding directorships of numerous corporations and organisations.

He also served as an adviser to China during the run-up to Hong Kong’s return to mainland rule in 1997.

“He’s a legislator, an executive councillor and the head of the Bank of East Asia (0023.HK), so he’s well-respected,” said Chim Pui-chung, a Hong Kong legislator representing the financial services sector, who has known Li for years.

Li, 68, is known for his civic-mindedness and being outspoken on policy issues.

The bank said Li had received a notice from the U.S. Securities and Exchange Commission that he may face civil charges in the agency’s investigation into trading in Dow Jones shares.

Li denied any wrongdoing and said in a statement: “I will continue to carry out all my business and public duties while defending my good name and reputation.”

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Chim, his fellow lawmaker, said Li had no reason to enrich himself through ill-gotten means.

“Sometimes he’s a very straightforward guy who says what he feels and thinks. But he’s very rich and a tycoon’s son so in some sense, he doesn’t need to make money through devious means,” Chim added.

FAMILY TIES

Li is married to Penny Poon, whose brother, the high-profile Dickson Poon, is the founder and chairman of the luxury retailer Dickson Concepts (0113.HK). The Li’s have two children.

David Li’s grandfather was a founder of Bank of East Asia in 1918 — a rare Chinese-owned bank in a colony that was at the time dominated by British institutions.

David Li’s brother, Arthur, was until last month Hong Kong’s secretary of education. Their cousin, Andrew Li, is chief justice of Hong Kong’s highest court. An uncle, Simon, was the first Chinese to become a High Court judge in colonial Hong Kong.

The Bank of East Asia, a mid-tier lender controlled by the Li family and a constituent of the blue-chip Hang Seng Index .HSI, now boasts one of the biggest branch networks in mainland China among Hong Kong lenders.

Li has long talked of listing Bank of East Asia on a mainland stock exchange, which would be a first for a Hong Kong company. His nearly 2 percent stake in Bank of East Asia is worth about US$178 million.

Li’s directorships include Hong Kong and China Gas (0003.HK), which is controlled by billionaire Lee Shau Kee, who is Hong Kong’s second-richest person and the world’s 22nd wealthiest, according to the latest ranking by Forbes magazine.

Li is also a director of phone company PCCW Ltd. (0008.HK), which is headed by Richard Li, the son of Hong Kong’s richest man, Li Ka-shing; and of the SCMP Group (0583.HK), publisher of the South China Morning Post, Hong Kong’s largest English-language newspaper.

The busy Li is reportedly able to manage on four hours of sleep per night.

He is involved in so many endeavours that he is known for his often-late arrivals to Legislative Council sessions — where cameras have caught him catching up on his sleep.

“I don’t like being bored. Engagement is what keeps me active and enthusiastic,” he told the South China Morning Post last year.

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