“When Mahathir was retained as deputy premier in Hussein’s second cabinet, Razaleigh suddenly seemed extremely interested in getting the GoM to purchase Gammon House. As if that wasn’t weird enough, on the 12th of January 1980 (the year Mahathir was anticipated to attempt a coup), Sir David Davies received a ‘surprise’ phone call from a high-flying tycoon based in Kuala Lumpur. That tycoon was none other than his future father in-law, Dato’ Wong Kee Tat…”
THE THIRD FORCE
Sir David Davies is probably a name many Malaysians are not familiar with. His grandfather was Sir John Davies, the onetime head of the world-renowned Richard Thomas and Baldwin. His first wife was Debbie Lobb, daughter of a very influential Wall Street investment banker who was tied to the Rothschilds. In 1972, their marriage fell apart following disagreements over a property unit David was then the beneficial owner of.
The said unit was the world famous Connaught Centre, now known to many as the Jardine Tower. Located in the Central District of Hong Kong near the Bank of America, the building was constructed on a piece of reclaimed land on a lease term of 75 years. The term was successfully secured by its current owner, Hongkong Land Limited, at the then unheard price of HK$270 million (not HK$258 as widely reported), which roughly translates to USD380 million in today’s worth.
In 1983 – the year Jalil Ibrahim was murdered – David was approached by a Simon and Sir Henry Keswick and asked to become Managing Director of HongKong Land. It wasn’t long after that he met Linda Wong, daughter of the late property tycoon Dato’ Wong Kee Tat. The two met in Kuala Lumpur when Kee Tat was establishing a joint venture with Mandarin Hotels, a huge undertaking that was within the Hongkong Land hotel portfolio.
Back then, Kee Tat was already engaged in a long-term business venture together with the late Tan Sri Syed Kechik Syed Mohamed Al-Bukhary, then among the richest of Malaysian billionaires. The latter is a well-known associate of former premier Dr Mahathir Mohamad and even served as legal advisor to Tun Datu Mustapha Datu Harun – the Chief Minister of Sabah – from 1968 to 1975. There is also evidence to suggest that Syed Kechik knew the late Tun Abdul Razak extremely well.
The two – Razak and Syed Kechik – are said to have hit it off when the latter was Political Secretary to the late Tan Sri Dato’ Senu Abdul Rahman under the administration of the late Tunku Abdul Rahman. According to one account, Razak constantly involved Syed Kechik in discussions pertaining the development of rural Malaysia. In one of these discussions (held in 1964), Mahathir, who had just been elected Member of Parliament (MP) for Kota Setar Selatan, was present together with the then Menteri Besar of Selangor, the late Dato’ Seri Harun Idris.
Why Mahathir was present at that meeting is anyone’s guess, though the discussion concerned development plans for greater Selangor which Razak referred to as the “economic hub of Malaysia.” It seems that the plans even touched on development along the outskirts of Seremban, Negeri Sembilan. Three years later, Mahathir got in touch with his brother in-law, the late Dato’ Sri Mohamad Jaffar Mohamad Ali, to discuss these plans. For the record, the younger brother of Siti Hasmah was well acquainted with the managers of Cycle & Carriage (CC) through the company’s premier dealership at Jalan Tuanku Abdul Rahman, Kuala Lumpur.
Now, it should interest you to know that Jaffar was also well connected with the Keswick brothers. Back then, Simon Keswick was the director of Jardine Matheson & Co. (JMC), the group that founded and owned the company David was invited to lead. JMC also owned a large chunk of the Hongkong and Shanghai Banking Corporation and had very close relations with the managers of CC Malaysia. Mahathir needed badly for Jaffar to take on a managerial post at the Mercedes Benz dealership.
He also wanted to take advantage of Jaffar’s ties with the newly appointed Yang di-Pertuan Besar of Negeri Sembilan, Tuanku Jaafar Tuanku Abdul Rahman. Not many were aware of their ties or even of Jaffar’s keen interest in the property market. All people knew of Siti Hasmah’s bother was his happy go lucky persona and flamboyant ways. In 1974, the Keswick brothers helped Jaffar secure a managerial position at Cycle & Carriage Bintang, a local franchise of CC that commenced operations the same year.
It was also the year Jaffar got the Tuanku to agree to the incorporation of Syarikat Pesaka Antah Sdn Bhd, a company that ventured into property together with JMC. The joint venture was consolidated through the incorporation of Antah Holdings in 1976 by the royal family of Negeri Sembilan. Unbeknown to many, it was Simon and Sir Henry Keswick who got the Tuanku to agree to the incorporation by getting Jaffar to speak to him. Despite the Royal family holding a 54 percent stake in the company, it was JMC that provided all the technical know-how and executive input to run the group.
While his rapidly deteriorating health was not known to most UMNO members, it seems a little more than a coincidence that Mahathir began discussing the question of succession with the late Tan Sri Hamzah Abu Samah towards the later part of 1975. The fact that Tun Hussein Onn would succeed Razak was a done deal and something nobody in UMNO disputed. It was the question of who would become Prime Minister after Hussein that concerned Mahathir most.
But barely had the Kubang Pasu Member of Parliament finished discussions with Hamzah, Razak breathed his last. It wasn’t long after that Razaleigh was appointed the new Minister of Finance in place of Hussein, a transition that seemed to upset Mahathir considerably. You see, he had spoken to Hamzah about the latter being made Minister of Finance and Razaleigh the Minister of Trade and Industry. But Hussein preferred Razaleigh to control the purse strings of the nation instead.
As a matter of fact, the third Malaysian premier even preferred Razaleigh over Mahathir as the new Deputy Prime Minister. But the Kelantan Prince convinced Hussein to consider Mahathir for the post, citing some “unfinished business” he had in Bank Bumiputra Malaysia Berhad (BBMB) that required “serious attention.” Contrary to popular belief (which Razaleigh himself propagated), his decision not to become deputy premier had everything to do with a plan Mahathir had quietly hatched together with Hamzah and Jaffar which was whispered to him by someone from BBMB.
Now, remember the cable I spoke of in part 1 (SEE PART 1, LINK BELOW)?
On the 30th of August 1977, the United States (US) Department of State received a cable warning it of three Malaysian Ministers and their “dominating influence in any cabinet established by the Government of Malaysia (GoM).” On that day, Mahathir spoke at length to Hamzah about Razaleigh’s role as Minister of Finance and how it “was the biggest blunder Hussein could have ever made.”
According to him, having Razaleigh as both Minister of Finance and Director of BBMB meant the plan to finance Antah using the bank was next to impossible. As a matter of fact, the then deputy premier even grumbled that “the whole idea of getting Jaffar involved with Jardine and Antah was to use BBMB as a vehicle to fund (development) projects in Hong Kong.” Both he and Hamzah feared that Razaleigh would discover the exact method by which they planned to purchase Gammon House, a commercial office building located in the Central District of Hong Kong.
The plan was as follows:
Hamzah would use BBMB to finance development projects by Antah to take advantage of a property bubble that was inflating in Hong Kong. While he did that, Jaffar would leverage on his ties with Tuanku Jaafar by discussing property ventures between Antah and the GoM. Hamzah, who himself had ties with a Singaporean property broker cum senior manager at Hongkong Land, would then use those ties to negotiate the price of Gammon House with JMC. In the interim, Mahathir would gather support in UMNO before staging a coup to oust Hussein.
According to plans, Mahathir would get the GoM to acquire the tower from Hongkong Land at a dirt-cheap price once Hussein was ousted. Then, he would ‘invite’ Antah to take up several floors at the unit before venturing into transportation, infrastructure and housing development projects with JMC and the Singaporean property broker. The minute Razaleigh was announced Minister of Finance, all plans were dropped.
But that may not have stopped the Kelantan Prince from discovering them. While Jaffar was no brother in-law of his, he was well acquainted with Syed Kechik’s partner in Sri Hartamas Development Berhad, the late Dato’ Wong Kee Tat. Now, it was an open secret then among certain circles that the tycoon was supported by triad leaders from mainland China with seemingly bottomless pits of wealth. As a matter of fact, it was for this reason that Syed Kechik ventured into development and infrastructure projects with Kee Tat in the first place.
Then, when Mahathir was retained as deputy premier in Hussein’s second cabinet, Razaleigh suddenly seemed extremely interested in getting the GoM to purchase Gammon House. As if that wasn’t weird enough, on the 12th of January 1980 (the year Mahathir was anticipated to attempt a coup), Sir David Davies received a ‘surprise’ phone call from a high-flying tycoon based in Kuala Lumpur. That tycoon was none other than his future father in-law, Dato’ Wong Kee Tat…
To be continued…
PAST ARTICLES IN THIS SERIES
Part 1: The dirtiest scandals in Malaysian history. Part 1 – The Maminco tin scandal as never before told