Malaysian developer caught up in FBI probe

He had it all. Power, influence and glamour. But US President Donald Trump's high-flying son-in-law Jared Kushner has been progressively sidelined in his White House role - the latest blow the downgrading of his security clearance. Looking increasingly isolated, his weakening comes as a series of other high-profile colleagues exit the White House, underscoring the turmoil within.

37-year-old Tiah Joo Kim is the son of tycoon Tony Tiah Thee Kian.
37-year-old Tiah Joo Kim is the son of tycoon Tony Tiah Thee Kian.

PETALING JAYA • The business dealings between US President Donald Trump's daughter Ivanka and wealthy Malaysian developer Tiah Joo Kim, are being investigated by the United States' Federal Bureau of Investigation, CNN reported.

Quoting a former and a current US official, CNN reported that the FBI is scrutinising the negotiations and financing surrounding the Trump International Hotel and Tower in Vancouver.

The US$360 million (S$475 million) Trump tower was developed by the 37-year-old Tiah, the son of tycoon Tony Tiah Thee Kian.

The younger Tiah is the CEO of his family-owned property development company TA Global Bhd and its Canada-based Holborn Group.

The 63-storey Trump International Hotel and Tower, featuring a trademarked Ivanka Trump spa, was jointly developed by TA Global Bhd and Holborn Group, and opened in February 2017, just after Mr Trump took office as president.

During negotiations, Mr Tiah reportedly bonded with Ms Ivanka Trump's husband Jared Kushner but negotiated directly with her over details of its development.

The FBI's scrutiny of Mr Tiah's development comes as its special counsel Robert Mueller investigates allegations that Mr Kushner conspired in Russian tampering with the 2016 United States presidential election that led to Mr Trump's win.

Ms Trump serves as special adviser to her father, while Mr Kushner serves as senior adviser.

CNN said on Thursday it is standard procedure for the FBI to probe foreign contacts and international business deals as part of a background check investigation for security clearances.

Last month, Mr Kushner's security clearance was downgraded from "top secret" to "secret", while Ms Trump may face hurdles getting a full security clearance as investigations continue.

CNN said the FBI has been looking closely at the international business entanglements of both Ms Trump and Mr Kushner, to determine whether any of those deals could leave them vulnerable to pressure from foreign agents, including China, according to a US official.

This comes amid a report from the Washington Post claiming that officials in at least four countries, including China, have privately discussed ways they can manipulate Mr Kushner by taking advantage of his complex business arrangements.

According to CNN, the Trump Organisation does not own the Vancouver building but receives licensing and marketing fees from the developer.

It reported that President Trump's June financial disclosure form said the Trump Organisation made more than US$5 million in royalties and US$21,500 in management fees from the Vancouver property.

It is not clear why investigators are examining this particular deal involving Mr Tiah.

CNN said the timing of the deal - the property opened after Mr Trump took office - could be of interest.

The flow of foreign money, either from the developer or international condo buyers, could also be sparking scrutiny.

In 2016, The Star reported that the Trump mixed-use tower was sold at a record high per square foot for a condominium project in Canada, at an average of US$1,610.

Mr Tiah was quoted as saying that they approached the Trump group to manage the serviced residences because it is a young and dynamic company.

"Behind the Trump brand is a family business just like mine, so I can trust their longevity in the business. I've been so impressed by them from our dealings with them.

"Like our family, they have children who are being groomed to take over the business and they are so respectful of their father," Mr Tiah said.


A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Sunday Times on March 04, 2018, with the headline 'Malaysian developer caught up in FBI probe'. Subscribe