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Mar 29, 2008

Patrick Lim - jetsetter with a bulls-eye on his back


KUALA LUMPUR, March 28 – His jet set days seem a lifetime ago. The days of hopping onto a helicopter for a trip to Penang or a quick turnaround to Paris on his private jet. Or a power breakfast with Ferrari’s Kimi Raikonnen. Or cocktails with Oracle’s Larry Ellison at the America’s Cup in Valencia.

Those days must seem a long time ago for Datuk Patrick Lim Soo Kit.

Today, he must feel like a man with a bulls-eye on his back. The suave and well-turned out businessman has retreated to the background, hoping that the changing political structure will not leave him on the sidelines as it has many prominent Malaysian corporate figures over the year.
Think of Tan Sri Khoo Kay Peng, Tan Sri Quek Leng Chan, Datuk Nazri Abdullah and others who paid for their close association with either Tengku Razaleigh Hamzah or Anwar Ibrahim.

What was once a powerful calling card is now a liability for the man christened Patrick Badawi by his enemies. And make no mistake now that Abdullah Ahmad Badawi’s hold on power is tenuous, Patrick Lim’s enemies are coming out in droves.

Leading the charge is Tun Dr Mahathir Mohamad. In his column in The Sun today, the former prime minister implies that the former Terengganu mentri besar Idris Jusoh and the first family may have benefited from various mega-projects. He does not name the conduit. He does not have to.

It was Dr Mahathir who publicly accused Lim and Khairy Jamaludin of running Terengganu at the height of his public spat with Abdullah. By referring to him today, Mahathir is merely drawing on a reservoir of disdain, envy and anger against Patrick among Umno members.

His critics say that Patrick dropped Abdullah’s name at every turn, and that helped propel him into the big league and pages of society magazines. He hit the Malaysian corporate scene in the 1990s when - with the help of some financial backing from his wealthy father-in-law - his company started Equine Park, a housing development in Selangor.

As with many businessmen in Malaysia, he hitched his fortunes to the political master of the day. In the waning days of the Mahathir administration, he hung out with Datuk Mokhzani Mahathir, and they became thick friends. After Abdullah became the PM in October 2003, Lim started getting closer to Kamaludin, Abdullah’s only son. Within a short time, he made himself part of the inner circle, showing up when Abdullah and family members went on holidays.

By now, there was speculation that he was a nominee for Kamaludin. Within some government departments and states, there was little doubt that he had the ear of the PM, or at least he gave the impression he had.

He began to attract disdain and envy after he was selected by Abdullah to develop Pulau Duyong near Kuala Terengganu and organise the Monsoon Cup. In a short time, the Monsoon Cup has become a popular warm-up for teams planning an assault on the America's Cup.

In the same time, rumblings started on the ground that Lim and Abdullah’s family were the main beneficiaries of the major infrastructure projects in the state. This was one of the sticky points between Idris Jusoh and the royal household in the recent battle over the Mentri Besar’s position. Lim was aware of the growing noise and attempted to hush it by pointing out of the many economic benefits which the Monsoon Cup brought to the state.

What he failed to realise was that the criticism had little to do with the race itself but was aimed at its promoter and benefactor in Putrajaya. Within Umno circles, they were peeved that a businessman, not one of their own, could wield so much influence and do it so openly.

If there was any doubt about Lim’s close ties with Abdullah it was swept away when the Prime Minister launched the Penang Global City Centre last year. The project – an ambitious plan to turn a tiny neighborhood into a sprawling metropolis – was fast tracked as a high-impact project under the National Implementation Task Force and put under the Northern Corridor.

Critics said that the project, to be developed on a 104-ha site now occupied by the Penang Turf Club, will create traffic jams, damage lush green areas and will be unsustainable. The new state government under Lim Guan Eng is not likely to approve the project unless it is scaled down.

Lim knows that his days of being in the frontline are over.

He will be collateral damage even if Abdullah survives this choppy period. It is the price that businessmen in Malaysia pay for being associated with certain political leaders. Tan Sri Halim Saad of the Renong Group and Tan Sri Tajudin Ramli were the poster boys of the Mahathir era and paid for the excesses associated with that time.

Only a handful of corporate figures have been able to be close to different political masters. Among them is Berjaya’s Vincent Tan. He has remained loyal to Dr Mahathir but managed to win the trust of Abdullah. But the publication of Dr Mahathir’s long and piercing attack on Abdullah on the front page of a newspaper closely associated with Tan suggests that he is hedging his bets.


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