Richard Li has won the race to buy the Hong Kong and Thailand operations of ING's insurance business for more than $2 billion, according to people close to the process, leaving the Dutch group with just its Korean and Japanese operations to sell in Asia.
The deal, which is expected to be announced on Friday, will see the son of Hong Kong's richest tycoon, Li Ka-shing, move back into an industry he left with the 2007 sale of Pacific Century Life, a Hong Kong-based life assurance company that he sold to Belgo-Dutch group Fortis.
ING last week agreed to sell its Malaysian business to AIA, the pan-Asian life insurer, for $1.7 billion. The deal is part of a series of sales imposed on the group by the EU after its rescue by the Dutch government during the financial crisis.
Analysts at JPMorgan in Europe estimated that the Hong Kong and Thai businesses have a book value of €0.9 billion ($1.2 billion). "If similar multiples are achieved as in Malaysia, we estimate this would raise €1.5 billion-€2 billion," they wrote last week.
According to people familiar with the sale, Mr Li is paying about €1.8 billion ($2.4 billion) for the businesses.
Mr Li, the majority owner of Hong Kong media and telecoms group PCCW, was given extra firepower for his ambitions this summer by a pledge from his billionaire father that he would back his son's business ventures with cash.
The budding tycoon has three main business interests — telecoms, property and financial services — with which the ING insurance arm would fit. Mr Li in 2010 bought Pinebridge Investments, a U.S.-based asset management business, from AIG following the insurance company's collapse during the global financial crisis.