Thursday, October 21, 2010

The story of Chen Lip Keong of Karambunai

Reclusive businessman Chen back in local limelight

Ipoh-born Tan Sri Dr Chen Lip Keong is no stranger to the business world. Nor is he a stranger to controversy.

Although he may cruise under the radar of many, the old hand has been in the corporate business since the mid-1970s, where he started out in property development.

With a net worth estimated to be about US$180 million (RM560 million), the 64-year-old business tycoon made his debut onto Forbes Asia Malaysia’s 40 richest list last year.

The Bachelor of Medicine and Surgery graduate from the University of Malaya is one of the first Malaysians to invest in Cambodia.

Chen founded NagaCorp in 1995, the year he obtained a 70-year gaming licence in Cambodia via his privately held company, Ariston. He has since built it to become Cambodia’s largest gaming resort, NagaWorld, located in Phnom Penh. It is the only licensed casino in the capital, where it holds an exclusive licence within a 200km radius of the city.

Chen listed NagaCorp Ltd in Hong Kong four years ago in October 2006, after earlier plans to list in Singapore were rejected by the Monetary Authority of Singapore. NagaCorp raised about HK$631 million (RM253 million) from its initial share sale, more than its target of HK$546 million.

In its results for the first half of 2010, NagaCorp’s net profit surged 83% to US$21.1 million from the US$11.5 million in the first half of 2009. Revenue for the period was US$67.8 million.

While the casino may have brought a windfall to Chen’s fortune, his Cambodian adventure is not all smooth sailing.

Chen ventured into Cambodia just when the country ended three decades of strife that began with consequences from the Vietnam war to the Khmer Rouge genocide and Vietnamese occupation.  

In early 1995, he committed US$1.3 billion to build a casino resort, a power station, sewage treatment and water plants, and property development projects.

Many of these investments did not take off, partly due to political instability and upheavals brought about by a shaky coalition government, with two prime ministers, formed in the aftermath of United Nations-supervised elections.

From 1993 to 1997, Hun Sen was co-prime minister with Prince Norodom Ranariddh. A coup in 1997 saw the removal of Ranariddh and following elections in 1998, Hun Sen became the country’s sole prime minister.

There were reports that Chen was an economic adviser to Samdech Hun Sen, Prime Minister of the Cambodian government since June 2001. He then became adviser to Cambodia last year.

It is unclear if Chen’s other planned investments did eventually take off, but the casino was the first and has fared well since then.

NagaWorld started as a floating casino in Phnom Penh, utilising a leased vessel moored in Phnom Penh. Today, it is a 14-storey integrated casino hotel resort with over 500 rooms.

Chen is president and director of Karambunai Corp Bhd and Petaling Tin Bhd. He also sits on FACB Industries Bhd’s board as executive director. - by Joyce Goh 

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