Dr Han Cheng Fong (Left) and Liew Mun Leong (Right)

Over the past 1 week, Changi Airport Group Chairman and former CEO of CapitaLand Liew Mun Leong was constantly in the news of his ex-maid being acquitted by High Court. Liew and his son had filed a police report against his former maid accusing her of stealing from his home. The High Court Judge didn’t believe their story and acquitted the maid last week.

Since then, netizens have been up in arms demanding the authorities to re-investigate the case, asking if there were any wrongdoings on the part of Liew. Under pressure from the public, Liew also announced his retirement from the Changi Airport Group and other government link entities yesterday (‘CAG chairman Liew Mun Leong to retire from his various public service and business roles‘, 10 Sep).

Meanwhile, netizens continue to dig up past information of Liew, circulating them on social media. One of the interesting old news that surfaced was an apparent “feud” between Liew and former DBS Land CEO Dr Han Cheng Fong.

The CapitaLand group was actually created from the merger of Pidemco Land and DBS Land in 2000. At the time, Temasek decided to appoint Liew to be the CEO of the new merged entity – CapitaLand. DBS Land CEO Dr Han stepped down.

Dr Han was leading DBS Land from the late 80s till the time he stepped down, growing the company’s asset base from S$1.7 billion in 1989 to S$7.5 billion in 2000. Profits grew some six-fold under Dr Han. He certainly helped transform DBS Land into a strong regional player by 2000.

Liew talked about his own achievements in ST

In 2008, Straits Times featured Liew in an article (‘When times are bad, prepare for good times‘, 3 Dec 2008) talking about his achievements.

In the interview, Liew talked about how during the Asian Financial Crisis in 1997-98, he was able to pick up freehold Furama Hotel in Hong Kong’s Central for a song under Pidemco Land then. He said he paid HK$1.8 billion (S$355 million) for the Furama property, half of what the owners had paid.

And in 2001, after he became CEO of CapitaLand, he took over the derelict Raffles City Shanghai project, “a big hole in the ground”, abandoned by the former DBS Land, he said. By 2008, it was worth twice its investment cost of S$300 million and commanded one of Shanghai’s stiffest rentals, he added.

Speaking philosophically to the reporter, he said crises are the best time to “build up your relative combat power” and he arrived at this operating principle – “In good times, prepare for bad times. In bad times, prepare for good times.”

Former DBS Land CEO fired back

About a week later after the talk of Liew’s property achievements was published on Straits Times, former DBS Land CEO Dr Han Cheng Fong wrote to Straits Times firing back (‘DBS Land didn’t abandon Shanghai project‘, 11 Dec 2008).

Dr Han was particularly offended by Liew’s remarks that he took over the derelict Raffles City Shanghai project – ‘a big hole in the ground’ – abandoned by DBS Land.

“In the interest of accuracy, as the former CEO of DBS Land, I state categorically that Raffles City Shanghai was never abandoned by DBS Land at any time. Nor was it derelict or ‘a big hole in the ground’ when Pidemco merged with DBS Land,” Dr Han shot back.

He said that DBS Land bought the prime and central Raffles City Shanghai site in the early 1990s and spent two tough years to clear the site before starting construction around 1995 to 1996. After completing the basement and before the superstructure construction could begin, however, the Asian financial crisis hit in 1997.

“Prudence dictated that we put the project on hold to ride out the crisis,” Dr Han explained. “I strongly object to the aspersions cast on the board and management of DBS Land by the poor choice of words used to describe this wonderful project that Pidemco/CapitaLand inherited.”

“The project was among other strong businesses such as the Australand group in Australia, the Ascott group of service residences, the Raffles Holdings group of fine hotels and quality landbank in Singapore, Shanghai and elsewhere in the world left behind by DBS Land that benefited Pidemco/Capitaland,” Dr Han further added.

That is to say, a lot of CapitaLand’s property foundation was built by DBS Land even before Liew became CapitaLand CEO. A comparison between the portfolios of DBS Land and Pidemco at the point of merger would have demonstrated the striking difference between the two property firms.

Dr Han concluded his letter saying, “I gladly concede that CapitaLand’s management has done a great job to grow the company to what it is today. But is it necessary to denigrate the work of others to glorify one’s own achievements?”

 

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