August 14, 2008 / 6:23 AM / 11 years ago

China ITAT $1 bln IPO on hold over accounting -report

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SHANGHAI/HONG KONG, Aug 14 (Reuters) - Chinese retailer ITAT Group Ltd’s plan to raise $1 billion from a Hong Kong IPO this year has been put on hold amid allegations of improper accounting, the Wall Street Journal Asia reported, citing people familiar with the situation.

The report cited unidentified bankers as noting a discrepancy between the company’s sales figures and sluggish activity seen by analysts visiting some of its stores. It also said an anonymous letter sent to the Hong Kong stock exchange accused the company of financial misreporting.

A Hong Kong Stock Exchange spokeswoman contacted by Reuters said she could not comment on individual cases.

ITAT Chief Executive Officer Li Wei declined to comment to Reuters while Chairman Au Tung Kwok and executive director Li Meijin could not be reached for comment.

An ITAT spokeswoman, who gave her surname Han, confirmed to Reuters that Goldman Sachs (GS.N) and Merrill Lynch MER.N had quit as sponsors of the deal, while Morgan Stanley (MS.N) and Deutsche Bank (DBKGn.DE) remained as underwriters.

In March, Hong Kong media reported that ITAT’s listing application generated queries from the Hong Kong Stock Exchange over the firm’s sales figures and business model, which led to a delay in its planned listing.

ITAT issued an announcement on Aug 4 denying media reports that the firm had failed to win approval in a second IPO hearing with the Hong Kong Stock Exchange.

“According to the Stock Exchange of Hong Kong Ltd, ITAT Group has not carried out a second hearing,” the firm said.

Morgan Stanley, China United Group Overseas Investment Ltd, Blue Ridge China Partners, L.P., Citadel Investment Group and Merrill Lynch are investors in ITAT, according to its website.

Shenzhen-based ITAT sells clothing, shoes and accessories under various brands through its membership stores in 25 Chinese provinces.

The firm operated 607 membership stores last year, more than double its total in 2006, according to its website. (US$1=HK$7.8) (Reporting by Samuel Shen and Kennix Chim, editing by Tony Munroe and Louise Heavens)

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