Newsmakers 2014: Property moguls and mega deals

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MALAYSIA continued to attract huge investments to its property sector this year with China-based developers leading the charge, especially into Iskandar Malaysia in Johor.

The sector was in the news constantly with land deals worth billions of ringgit being cut by property tycoons and even the Sultan of Johor, some of which were controversial. One thing is for sure, Johor’s backwater is being transformed.

The following are some of the names that are moving the sector. 

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Sultan Ibrahim Ismail Sultan Mahmud Iskandar
Sultan of Johor 

While Malaysia’s royal families are no strangers to the corporate world, the value of land deals cut by Sultan Ibrahim has put him in a league of his own. From the RM4.5 billion land sale to Guangzhou R&F Properties Co Ltd last year to the joint venture via Esplanade Danga 88 Sdn Bhd — in which he has a 64.4% stake — with Hong Kong-listed Country Garden Holdings Co Ltd to build the 2,000-acre man-made island Forest City in the Tebrau Strait, he has certainly shaken up the property development sector down south.

The 25th sultan of Johor is also seen as having a big influence on the administration of the state. The first draft of the Johor Housing and Real Property Board Bill 2014 would have given him executive powers, which opposition lawmakers and legal practitioners say runs contrary to the spirit of the federal constitution.

Due to opposition from certain quarters, the bill was toned down and the word “ruler” was replaced by “the state authority”.

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Tan Sri Leong Hoy Kum
Group managing director, Mah Sing Group Bhd

Mah Sing has been aggressively increasing its landbank in the country. In March, the property development group proposed to acquire 85.43 acres in the Sultan Salahuddin Abdul Aziz Shah Golf Course in Shah Alam for RM327 million. This was followed by the purchase of 12.38 acres in Kuala Lumpur for RM72.8 million.

The group completed the purchase of 6.55 acres in Sungai Buloh for RM87.2 million in April and 31 plots measuring a total 1,351.84 acres in Johor Baru for RM401.16 million in June.

In August, Mah Sing proposed to acquire 1,051.3 acres for RM359.56 million in Seremban, where it plans to build its first major township.

It also plans to buy 88.7 acres in Puchong for RM656.9 million. In October, the group purchased 96.71 acres in Rawang for RM68.67 million.

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Datuk Seri Mohamed Khaled Nordin
Menteri Besar of Johor

Khaled was appointed the 15th menteri besar of Johor after winning the Permas state seat in the 13th general election. It was his administration that proposed the Johor Housing and Real Property Board Bill 2014 at the state assembly.

Khaled tried to justify the move to give executive powers to the sultan by saying that the latter would have to act according to the advice of the menteri besar.

He was also in the spotlight because of the Forest City project, where reclamation work was said to have been started without a detailed environmental impact assessment approval from the Department of Environment. The project also raised concerns about increased silting in the Port of Tanjung Pelepas.

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Tan Sri Liew Kee Sin
Non-executive director, Eco World Development Group Bhd

Liew, the founder and former CEO of S P Setia Bhd, quit the group in January this year and was appointed a non-independent, non-executive director of Eco World, a property development company. Note that he was instrumental in making S P Setia a major player in the property development sector and one of his legacies is the redevelopment of London’s iconic Battersea Power Station by the group with Sime Darby Properties Sdn Bhd and the Employees Provident Fund.

While Liew does not own a substantial stake in Eco World, he and several partners founded Eco World International Bhd, a special-purpose acquisition company that is seeking to raise RM1.87 billion to fund acquisitions of properties in countries such as Australia and the UK.

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Tan Sri Mohamed Salim Fateh Din
Group managing director, Malaysian Resources Corp Bhd 

Salim made the headlines this year following a share sale agreement between MRCB and Gapurna Sdn Bhd, which gave the tycoon a 16.8% stake in the developer of KL Sentral via the latter.

However, the deal was not without hiccups, as part of it entailed MRCB’s acquisition of a 70% stake in PJ Sentral Development Sdn Bhd, which was owned by Gapurna’s subsidiary Nusa Gapurna Development Sdn Bhd (NGD). PKNS Holdings Sdn Bhd, which has a 30% stake in PJ Sentral, had tried to prevent NGD from selling its stake to MRCB.

However, PKNS lost the case in High Court and NGD won its counter-claim for PKNS to sell its 30% stake in PJ Sentral to MRCB in February. Under Salim’s leadership, MRCB secured the rights to develop the first parcel of the RM7 billion Kwasa Damansara township, called MX-1, and is also set to acquire a 31% stake in Quill Capita Trust via an asset injection exercise valued at RM750 million.

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Datuk Terry Tham Ka Hon
Group managing director, Eastern & Oriental Bhd

Tham bought back 110 million E&O shares or a 9.9% stake from Sime Darby Bhd at RM2.90 per share in May, making him the second largest shareholder of the high-end property developer with a 10.55% stake. The purchase signalled his intention to stay with E&O, curbing speculation that he might leave because his position was up for review in August.

Sime Darby had in 2011 bought a 31% stake from Tham, Tan Sri Wan Azmi Wan Hamzah and G.K. Goh Holdings Ltd and their connected parties for RM2.30 a share.

E&O was in the news this year following the Department of Environment’s approval of Seri Tanjung Pinang Phase 2 and clearance by the Penang government to start  reclamation work.

E&O also ventured into London’s property market through the acquisition of Loxley Holdings Management Ltd for RM147.37 million.

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Tan Sri Lim Kang Hoo
Executive chairman of Ekovest Bhd  and managing director of Iskandar Waterfront Holdings Sdn Bhd

Lim is one of the largest landowners in the waterfront area of Johor Baru, including the prized Danga Bay, through IWH.

In February last year, IWH signed a heads of agreement with Capital Land Malaysia Pte Ltd and Singapore’s state investment arm Temasek Holdings to jointly acquire and develop an RM8.1 billion mixed-use integrated development in Danga Bay.

This year, it inked deals to sell 55ha in Danga Bay to Country Garden Holdings for nearly RM900 million and 13 acres, also in Danga Bay, to Shanghai-based Greenland Group for about RM600 million.   

Plans are underway to list the master developer of Danga Bay on Bursa Malaysia with market sources saying the group could be valued at RM3 billion.

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Tan Sri Surin Upatkoon, aka K K Lau
Managing director, MPHB Capital Bhd    

Through Liberty Bridge Sdn Bhd, Surin and four other prominent businessmen acquired 17.6ha of prime land in Puteri Harbour from UEM Land Holdings Bhd for about RM400 million. Prior to that, Surin acquired a 24.7% stake in Kumpulan Europlus Bhd, which, in turn, holds about 30% of Talam Transform Bhd. The latter owns 1,755 acres in the Klang Valley, according to its 2014 annual report.

Surin’s flagship MPHB has filed a lawsuit against the Johor government and Petronas in regards to a 1,800-acre tract in Pengerang that the national oil company is acquiring. He is also developing a RM3.5 billion GDV project on the Club De Vegas site in Jalan Imbi, KL. — By Kamarul Azhar

 

This article first appeared in The Edge Malaysia Weekly, on 22 - 28 December 2014.