The Washington Post Sunday
Self-described ‘visionary’ consults God on investments
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.