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Thread: Two new faces in Singapore billionaire list

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    Published August 22, 2008

    Two new faces in Singapore billionaire list

    Wilmar's success and soaring Sing $ make list longer


    (SINGAPORE) Singapore now has seven US-dollar billionaires, up from five last year, according to the latest list of the 40 richest people here published by Forbes.

    But the combined net worth of Singapore's 40 most affluent people stayed unchanged at US$32 billion, as some real estate tycoons here saw their fortunes dwindle with falling property stocks.

    Both new entrants to the billionaire league are shareholders of Singapore-listed palm oil giant Wilmar International. As the share price of Wilmar soared 30 per cent over the past year, their fortunes skyrocketed.

    A stronger Sing dollar also helped. Over the year since the previous list was compiled, the Sing dollar gained 9.1 per cent against the US dollar.

    Kuok Khoon Hong, 59, Wilmar's chairman and chief executive, saw his net worth rise to US$1.3 billion from US$960 million a year ago, propelling him into fifth place on this year's Singapore rich list, up from No 6 last year.

    He overtook Kwek Leng Beng, executive chairman of property group City Developments, who together with his family is estimated to be worth US$1.2 billion, up from US$1.1 billion last year.

    Former remisier Peter Lim, 55, who owns just under 5 per cent of Wilmar, according to Forbes Asia magazine, stayed at No 7 on the list, but his wealth shot up to US$1.1 billion from US$830 million a year earlier.

    Property magnate Ng Teng Fong, 80, and his family, who control the privately held Far East Organization, emerged as Singapore's richest family for the second year running. They have an estimated combined net worth of US$7 billion, up from US$6.7 billion last year - the result of 'a more in-depth valuation of their real estate holdings', said Forbes.

    The family of late banker Khoo Teck Puat, who died in 2004, stayed in second place. Together, they control some US$6.1 billion, including an estimated US$4 billion from the sale of their stake in Standard Chartered Bank in 2006.

    Veteran banker Wee Cho Yaw, 79-year-old chairman of United Overseas Bank group, and his family remained in third position, with an estimated net worth of US$3.6 billion, up from US$3.3 billion last year.

    Zhong Sheng Jian - founder, chairman and chief executive of China-based property developer Yanlord Land Group - saw his net worth tumble US$700 million over the past year as the group's share price fell, but still managed to retain his spot as the fourth richest person in Singapore with US$1.8 billion to his name.

    Of this year's top 40, four were new entrants, including Wong Fong Fui, chairman of Boustead Singapore, an engineering and infrastructure firm, at No 37. His wealth is valued at US$135 million.

    Vivian Chandran, the widow of Robert Chandran - founder of marine fuel company Chemoil, who died in a helicopter crash in January - also entered the list for the first time at No 23, with an estimated net worth of US$240 million.

    The net worth of each of the top 40 was calculated using stock prices and exchange rates as at Aug 7, for public holdings. The value of privately held assets were estimated based on what they would be worth if public. Last year's estimates were based on prices and exchange rates as at Aug 10, 2007.

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    August 22, 2008 Friday

    Budget hotel boss makes rich list

    Chief of Fragrance chain debuts on Forbes' S'pore list at No.24

    By Fiona Chan

    From far left: Kwek Leng Beng, Dr James Koh, Fragrance Hotel owner and Tan Boy Tee. -- THE STRAITS TIMES FILE PHOTOS

    BUDGET hotels and mid-range condominiums are hardly what one associates with the rich and famous.

    But they proved the key to wealth for Mr Koh Wee Meng, the chief of Fragrance Group, which owns the chain of tourist-class Fragrance hotels, as well as boutique property developer Fragrance Land.

    Mr Koh debuted on Forbes magazine's list of Singapore's richest people at No.24, propelled by a string of well-sold boutique condos and revenue from Fragrance's 18 hotels islandwide. But Fragrance - one of the few property companies that did better this year than last year - was an exception to the real estate riches rule.

    Some other property bigwigs found their fortunes halved as the market slowed and stock prices tumbled. Upmarket developers such as SC Global's Simon Cheong and Ho Bee Group's Chua Thian Poh suffered especially from the downturn in the luxury homes segment.

    Mr Cheong, who made his debut on the list last year, fell from 15th place to 22nd as his net worth fell from US$480 million (S$680 million) to US$245 million. Mr Chua slipped from 13th position last year to 20th this year after his fortune fell from US$500 million to US$260 million.

    Mr Cheng Wai Keung, chairman of property and retail group Wing Tai Holdings, saw his wealth plunge to US$255 million from US$475 million last year after the company's stock fell 50 per cent.

    Generally, the rankings released yesterday remained much the same as last year, particularly in the top spots.

    Property magnate Ng Teng Fong, who heads Far East Organization, was named Singapore's richest man for the second year in a row. His fortune rose from US$6.7 billion last year to US$7 billion.

    Mr Ng was again followed by the family of the late banker Khoo Teck Puat, who are worth US$6.1 billion, up from US$5.7billion last year.

    United Overseas Bank chairman Wee Cho Yaw also kept his third spot with a family fortune valued at US$3.6 billion, from US$3.3 billion last year.

    In fifth and seventh places are Singapore's newest billionaires: Mr Kuok Khoon Hong of Wilmar International and remisier-turned-investor Peter Lim.

    Mr Kuok, who founded Wilmar as a tiny palm oil outfit and turned it into one of Asia's largest agribusinesses, saw his stock surge nearly a third in the last year due, in part, to soaring palm oil prices.

    Mr Lim, coincidentally, also got rich off Wilmar. He bet on Mr Kuok's success with an early investment in the palm oil producer and is now reaping the benefits.

    Commodities also launched Mr Sunny Verghese, the chief of cashew and cocoa trader Olam International, into the rich list for the first time. He debuted in 39th place with a fortune of US$125 million.

    Another new entry was Mr Wong Fong Fui, the chief executive of Boustead Singapore, whose successful turnaround of one of Singapore's oldest companies echoes his own classic rags-to-riches story.

    Forbes said Mr Wong was born into a poor family and worked as a tree tapper on a Malaysian rubber plantation when he was seven. He was accepted into a secondary school after he wrote an essay, with the following lines: 'I tap rubber trees. I see rubber trees in the morning. I see rubber trees in the evening. I see rubber trees every day, day in, day out. Rubber trees, rubber trees. I hate rubber trees.'

    As always, shipping magnates sailed smoothly into the wealth rankings. In the top 20 alone were Labroy Marine's Tan Boy Tee, Yantai Raffles' Brian Chang, Pacific International Lines' Chang Yun Chung, Singapore Shipping Corp's Ow Chio Kiat and Ezra Holdings' Lee Kian Soo.

    Notable dropouts this year include fashion entrepreneur-turned-high-end hotelier Christina Ong, wife of tycoon Ong Beng Seng. Her fortune was dragged down by the falling stock price of bag maker Mulberry, in which she has a stake.

    After her removal, only three women remain on the list: Ms Olivia Lum, founder of water treatment firm Hyflux; Ms Vivian Chandran, the widow of energy firm Chemoil founder Robert Chandran; and Mrs Margaret Lien, the widow of banker Lien Ying Chow. The total net worth of the richest 40 remained at US$32 billion.

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