Is the tycoon era in HK coming to an end?

Is the tycoon era in HK coming to an end?

Hong Kong - When residents of Banyan Garden in Kowloon moved into their new homes built by tycoon Li Ka Shing's Cheung Kong Holdings 10 years ago, they realised their connection with Asia's richest man did not stop there.

The estate management company they had to use was a Li Ka Shing business. Their phone and broadband services were provided by a Li Ka Shing telecoms operator.

It may have struck some as a rather incestuous set-up by a powerful conglomerate, but there was nothing illegal about it. The residents complained but the Hong Kong authorities, without the cudgel of a competition law, was powerless to act.

This could change for Hong Kong's tycoons in the coming years.

In June last year, after seven years of wrangling, Hong Kong finally joined most developed economies in passing a Competition Law which, on paper at least, aims to crack down on anti-competitive cartel behaviour like price-fixing.

It also prohibits companies with "a substantial degree of market power" from abusing it to restrict competition - a rule that Cheung Kong's conduct in the Banyan Garden case might fall under.

"The law will help us clean house," says law academic Thomas Cheng, a member of the commission drafting the guidelines to flesh out the law. It is expected to be implemented in a year.

So when news broke last month that Mr Li was putting his ParknShop supermarket chain on the block, some guessed it might be because the end is nigh for legal cartelisation.

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