SINGAPORE — Singapore-based Malaysian billionaire Ong Beng Seng, Managing Director of Hotel Properties Limited (HPL), has been arrested by the Corrupt Practices Investigation Bureau (CPIB).
He is currently assisting in a high-profile investigation involving the country’s transport minister, Mr S Iswaran.
The news follows a string of rumours that circulated on private social media platforms surrounding the 2022 Singapore Grand Prix, an event spearheaded by Mr Ong.
Although he has received a notice of arrest and has posted a bail of $100,000, no charges have been filed against him, as announced by HPL’s board of directors.
Mr Ong will be travelling from 14 July 2023 and will surrender his passport to the CPIB upon his return.
He is reported to be fully cooperating with the CPIB. The HPL board has reassured that Mr Ong remains fit to continue his role as the Managing Director and that they will continue to monitor the situation, reassessing his suitability as developments unfold.
This is not the first time Mr Ong has found himself embroiled in controversy.
The 1990s saw questions over luxury condominium units sold by his company to Senior Minister Lee Kuan Yew and his son. The units, part of the Nassim Jade and Scotts 28 condominiums, were allegedly sold at special discounts.
This raised eyebrows due to Mr Ong’s familial links with the Lees – his uncle, Lee Suan Yew, was a director at HPL. Although then Prime Minister Goh Chok Tong cleared the Lees of any wrongdoing in 1996, the incident has remained a notable mark on Mr Ong’s business record.
Furthermore, an investigative report by the Organized Crime and Corruption Reporting Project in 2018 revealed allegations of corruption involving Mr Ong in the leasing of two islands in the Maldives.
The report suggested that HPL had sidestepped Maldivian laws requiring public tender for island leases, instead conducting direct negotiations with Maldivian officials.
It was also alleged that a US$5 million payment made for the lease of Fohtheyo island had been siphoned off through a company associated with friends of the then Maldivian Vice President Ahmed Adeeb. Mr Ong did not respond to these allegations.
Mr Ong, who is the founder of the Singapore-based organization Hotel Properties and a shareholder in many businesses, has a net worth of S$1.7 billion.
Together with his wife Christina, they ranked No. 25 on Forbes’ Singapore’s 50 Richest list, which was published in August 2022.
He is also the driving force behind the Singapore Grand Prix.
In 2007, he clinched the deal to bring the Formula One race to Singapore, largely due to his friendship with F1 boss Bernie Ecclestone.
In October 2022, Singapore once again hosted the Formula 1 Grand Prix after Singapore GP, backed by Ong and the Singapore Tourism Board, secured the franchise to host the night race for another seven years through 2028. This was the fourth and longest contract renewal, with previous deals ranging between four and five years.
Transport Minister S Iswaran said that the decision to host Formula One for another seven years came after thoroughly evaluating the long-term benefits that such an extension could bring to Singapore.
The Ministry of Trade and Industry and Singapore Tourism Board funds 60 per cent of the S$135 million night race costs each year, with race promoters Singapore GP footing the rest.
Despite these past controversies, the latest arrest and the implications of a potential scandal involving a cabinet minister have thrust the Singaporean business magnate back into the limelight.