Self-de­scribed ‘vi­sion­ary’ con­sults God on in­vest­ments

The Washington Post Sunday - - THE WORLD - BY ALAN FREE­MAN for­eign@wash­ Jon Emont in Jakarta con­trib­uted to this re­port.

Tony Tiah Thee Kian, a lead­ing Malaysian busi­ness­man, pleaded guilty in 2002 to sub­mit­ting a false re­port to the Malaysian stock ex­change. He was fined $783,000, forced to quit as chief ex­ec­u­tive of his fi­nan­cial firm and barred from cor­po­rate board­rooms for five years, ac­cord­ing to me­dia re­ports about a case that was head­line news in the South­east Asian na­tion.

Now Tiah — a self-de­scribed “vi­sion­ary” and evan­gel­i­cal Chris­tian who says he con­sults with God on in­vest­ment de­ci­sions — and his fam­ily are busi­ness part­ners with Pres­i­dent-elect Don­ald Trump’s com­pany in a flashy ho­tel in Van­cou­ver, B.C., that will open soon af­ter Trump’s Jan. 20 in­au­gu­ra­tion.

Mem­bers of the Trump fam­ily are ex­pected to travel to the boom­ing Cana­dian city to of­fi­cially open the Trump In­ter­na­tional Ho­tel & Tower, a 63-story, $270 mil­lion build­ing con­sist­ing of a 147-room ho­tel topped by 217 lux­ury con­do­mini­ums.

The Van­cou­ver project was de­vel­oped by two firms run by Tony Tiah and his fam­ily, al­though the en­tre­pre­neur’s 37-year-old son, Joo Kim, has led the ef­fort. Trump has li­censed his name to the project and the Trump Or­ga­ni­za­tion will man­age the ho­tel, but the pres­i­dent-elect has no ownership stake.

At 70, Tony Tiah is the same age as Trump, and he has built a rep­u­ta­tion in Malaysia for the kind of brag­gado­cio for which his fel­low real es­tate de­vel­oper is fa­mous. And like Trump, he has also been suc­cess­ful in busi­ness, build­ing Malaysia’s largest re­tail bro­ker­age firm, TA En­ter­prise, in the 1990s.

Tiah’s le­gal trou­ble ini­tially in­volved charges that he helped a busi­ness­man de­fraud Omega Se­cu­ri­ties, a mid­size bro­ker­age firm, of mil­lions of dol­lars in a com­plex series of trans­ac­tions. He ul­ti­mately pleaded guilty to one charge of pro­vid­ing a false re­port to the stock ex­change, ac­cord­ing to nu­mer­ous me­dia re­ports.

The case was part of a broader gov­ern­ment ef­fort to crack down on cor­po­rate crime at a time when Malaysia was dubbed the “Wild West of stock­broking.” But some me­dia re­ports said the cam­paign ap­peared to tar­get busi­ness ex­ec­u­tives such as Tiah who had ties to a lead­ing fig­ure in the po­lit­i­cal op­po­si­tion.

“Tony Tiah is a busi­ness­man who is op­er­at­ing in a coun­try where the lines be­tween busi­ness and pol­i­tics can of­ten be blurred, what is eth­i­cal or not can of­ten be blurred,” said Ong Kian Ming, a mem­ber of Par­lia­ment with the op­po­si­tion Demo­cratic Ac­tion Party.

When Tiah re­turned to TA En­ter­prise’s board in 2009, he had lost none of his self-con­fi­dence.

“With­out Tony Tiah, there is no TA,” he told the Malaysia Star. “My wife is good at op­er­a­tions. I am the vi­sion­ary one.”

Re­quests for com­ment from Tiah’s firm and his son were not an­swered. Asked in May about his fa­ther’s con­vic­tion, Joo Kim told Van­cou­ver’s Province news­pa­per that the case in­volved “an over­sight in re­port­ing cer­tain wrong in­for­ma­tion to the stock ex­change . . . . Sub­se­quently my fa­ther was fined and the case was closed.”

Tony Tiah has promised to hand over the reins of the busi­ness to Joo Kim, a grad­u­ate of Oral Roberts Univer­sity, but he is clearly re­luc­tant to bow out com­pletely.

While his son is chief ex­ec­u­tive for the com­pa­nies in­volved in the Van­cou­ver project, Tiah re­mains as nonex­ec­u­tive chair­man of TA En­ter­prise while his wife, Ali­cia Tiah, is chief ex­ec­u­tive.


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