Who is Ong Beng Seng, the tycoon caught up in CPIB’s probe involving Iswaran?, Latest Singapore News - The New Paper

Who is Ong Beng Seng, the tycoon caught up in CPIB’s probe involving Iswaran?

Tycoon Ong Beng Seng has been issued a notice of arrest linked to the Corruption Practices Investigation Bureau’s (CPIB) probe involving Transport Minister S. Iswaran.

Hotel Properties Limited (HPL), where Mr Ong is founder and managing director, said on Friday that the 77-year-old is cooperating with the anti-graft body to provide information in relation to his interactions with Mr Iswaran.

Mr Ong has posted bail of $100,000 and no charges have been filed against him. In its statement to the Singapore Exchange, HPL said he was travelling abroad on Friday and would surrender his passport to CPIB when he returns.

Here’s what is known about the property mogul.

Who is Mr Ong Beng Seng?

Mr Ong, better known by his initials OBS, was born in Sabah, Malaysia in 1946.

He had affluent parents and came to Singapore at the age of four. He studied at Anglo-Chinese School, where he was a champion sprinter and long jumper, and obtained a degree in insurance from Britain.

He went on to work in international insurance underwriting and broking in Europe, London and South-east Asia before joining Motor & General Underwriters Investment Holdings in the late 1960s.

Mr Ong married Ms Christina Fu, herself a prominent businesswoman, in 1972. In 1975, he joined Kuo, an oil trading company owned by his father-in-law Peter Fu. There, he made millions, accurately predicting the ups and downs of oil prices. The capital earned during this time is said to have helped finance his later investments and property development.

Mr Ong formed HPL in 1980 and acquired a number of hotels and properties in prime locations such as Orchard Road. The company was listed in Singapore in 1982.

As at December 2022, HPL’s hotel division had a portfolio of 38 hotels and resorts across 15 countries including Singapore, the United States, the Maldives and Italy. It owns brands such as the Four Seasons Hotels & Resorts, Hard Rock Hotels and Marriott International.

Mr Ong’s wife runs Como Hotels and Resorts, retail empire Club 21 and London-listed handbag maker Mulberry.

The couple were ranked 24th richest in Singapore by Forbes in September 2022 and are estimated to have a net worth of US$1.7 billion (S$2.2 billion). They have two children, a son and a daughter.

Formula One

Mr Ong, a keen motorsport enthusiast, is known as the man who brought Formula One to Singapore in 2008 – the first night race in the sport’s history. He owns the rights to the Singapore Grand Prix as its chairman.

Mr Ong Beng Seng, a keen motorsport enthusiast, is known as the man who brought Formula One to Singapore in 2008 – the first night race in the sport’s history. PHOTO: ST FILE

The race, held on the Marina Bay Street Circuit and famed for its heady mix of top musical acts and on-track action, has been held every year since then except for 2020 and 2021, when it was interrupted by the pandemic.

In January 2022, Singapore signed a deal to continue hosting the race for another seven years. It was the fourth renewal and the longest extension so far.

Property dealings

In 1996, Mr Ong made headlines when then-Senior Minister Lee Kuan Yew and his son, Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong, who was then Deputy Prime Minister, bought four luxury condominiums in the Orchard area – that were developed by HPL – at a discount.

They had been given unsolicited discounts of between 5 and 12 per cent in two units in Nassim Jade and another two units in Scotts 28.

It was determined then that the property purchases were above board and the discounts were given to early birds. The discounted sums were donated to charity.

The matter was aired in Parliament and then-Prime Minister Goh Chok Tong cleared the Lees of any wrongdoing.

In 2018, Mr Ong was linked to a scheme where the Maldives’ former president Abdulla Yameen and other officials leased out at least 50 Maldivian tropical islands to tourism developers without a public tender.

It was reported by the Organised Crime and Corruption Reporting Project (OCCRP) that Mr Ong had offered the president and vice-president luxury hotel accommodation while HPL was negotiating a deal to lease at least two islands.

The OCCRP is a global network of investigative journalists formed in 2006, with staff on six continents.

Mr Yameen and his deputy Ahmed Adeeb were jailed for their roles in the affair. But Mr Ong was not charged.

In 2021, HPL acquired a resort in the Maldives with 85 villas. The development is undergoing refurbishment and is expected to open in the second half of this year.

In May 2022, HPL was part of a consortium – along with state-owned investment firm Temasek – that bought the real estate assets of Singapore Press Holdings, the former publisher of The Straits Times, for US$2.8 billion. The assets include Paragon shopping mall and the Seletar shopping mall.