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Who Is Ong Beng Seng, the Billionaire Caught Up in Singapore’s Historic Corruption Probe?

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Singapore’s most serious political graft probe since the 1980s has ensnared a billionaire best known for bringing Formula One racing to the city and who has political ties that go back decades.

It’s the second brush with controversy for Malaysian property tycoon and hotelier Ong Beng Seng, 77, who was issued a notice of arrest in connection with a probe involving Transport Minister S. Iswaran. The case is the most serious linked to a senior politician in 37 years.

Who is Ong Beng Seng? What’s his net worth?

He’s the managing director of Hotel Properties Ltd. and is known for bringing the Formula One night race to Singapore in 2008. Ong is worth about $1 billion, according to the Bloomberg Billionaires index.

What is Ong’s involvement in the case?

The businessman was asked by Singapore’s anti-graft bureau about his interactions with Iswaran, according to a stock exchange filing by his Hotel Properties Ltd. on Friday. The tycoon posted bail of S$100,000 ($76,000), is cooperating with the probe and will continue in his duties as managing director, according to the filing.

What is Ong’s connection with F1?

Ong’s Singapore GP Pte and the country’s tourism agency in 2022 secured an extension to host the race through 2028. Iswaran is widely credited for playing a key role in the city’s bid to host the grand prix.

F1 Grand Prix of Singapore
Cars race through the city during the F1 Grand Prix of Singapore at Marina Bay Street Circuit on Oct. 2, 2022.Bryn Lennon—Formula 1/Getty Images

What are Ong’s business interests?

Hotel Properties’ interests include Four Seasons Hotels & Resorts in Maldives, Seychelles and Singapore. Hotel Properties also develops luxury condominiums such as Burlington Gate in Mayfair, London and Nassim Jade in Singapore.

Last year, a consortium led by Ong and units of state investment firm Temasek Holdings Pte won a bidding war to buy the property assets of the city’s main publisher. In 2003, Ong and tycoon Oei Hong Leong were engaged in a tussle over steel-miller NatSteel Ltd.

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In 1999, Ong together with Saudi Prince Alwaleed Bin Talal and others helped finance the restructuring of Planet Hollywood International Inc. The chain operated about 80 movie theme restaurants promoted and partly owned by Bruce Willis, Arnold Schwarzenegger and other stars.

What past controversy is he associated with?

This isn’t the first time Ong has been embroiled in controversies surrounding politicians from Singapore’s ruling party. In 1996, then deputy prime minister Lee Hsien Loong and his father Lee Kuan Yew were cleared in an inquiry over claims of impropriety on discounts received for four luxury apartments developed by the tycoon’s Hotel Properties.

“My concern was that Ong Beng Seng, being a shrewd businessman, like all developers, might be using them, doing a favor for them, without their knowing it,” former prime minister Goh Chok Tong wrote in his book Standing Tall: The Goh Chok Tong Years, Volume 2. He was referring to the inquiry into the Nassim Jade apartment purchases by the Lees. “And I knew that Ong Beng Seng was a friend of Lee Kuan Yew.”

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Goh wrote that the elder Lee, Singapore’s first prime minister, had similar initial doubts about Ong. The late Lee Kuan Yew later praised Ong as a “straightforward businessman who should not be punished for the incident,” according to Goh’s book.

What else do we know about Ong?

Ong was born in Malaysia and moved to Singapore when he was four, according to a Business Times article in 1992. He was educated at the Anglo-Chinese School and was a long jumper in school.

In 2002, Ong was part of a government-led group set up to recommend ways to restructure Singapore’s economy after the city-state suffered its worst recession in 37 years in 2001.

—With assistance from Yihui Xie, Pui Gwen Yeung and Aradhana Aravindan.

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