Chapter X 

Enter The Whirlwind 

Nobody in the history of business of Hongkong accomplished as much as did Mr George Tan Soon Gin in such a short period of time. 

And nobody in the history of business of Hongkong has fallen as hard as did Mr George Tan Soon Gin in such a short period of time. 

He was a whirlwind of activity, working from early morning until late in the evening. 

Anybody near to him could not help but get caught up in the cyclone of activity which accompanied his every corporate move. 

His wheeling and dealing activities touched nearly everybody who was anybody in business in Hongkong. 

At the height of his success, he was unbeatable in business. 

At the height of his success, more than 40,000 people were, directly or indirectly, on his payroll. 

When things went against him, however, he was swallowed up in the seemingly bottomless pit of ugly allegations – some of which were proved accurate – and the mountains of debt of most of the companies which he controlled. 

The legacy of Mr George Tan in Hongkong is unlikely, ever, to be forgotten. 

Vickers da Costa and Company Hongkong Ltd, an international stockbroking company of the day, with offices in Hongkong, New York, London, Singapore, Tokyo and Manila, thought, in 1982, to be the Number One in its field in the world, will certainly never forget Mr George Tan Soon Gin and the publicly listed companies which he controlled in Hongkong. 

This is because, in about October 1982, Vickers da Costa and Company Hongkong Ltd published a Special Review on Carrian Investments Ltd, the parent company of Mr George Tan Soon Gin’s empire of publicly listed Hongkong entities. 

The findings of this ‘Special Review’ were especially interesting to the Authorities of Hongkong – because of the gross inaccuracies at Page 3, entitled: ‘Summary and Recommendation’. 

This is that which Vickers da Costa and Company Hongkong Ltd had to say about Carrian Investments Ltd: 

‘The ending of the 1980/81 bull markets for stocks and property and the generally dull conditions which have interspersed periods of price correction have done little to dispel the interest surrounding Carrian. Yet the past twelve months have been in the main a period of consolidation for Carrian Investments, in particular with regard to the two major subsidiaries acquired in the latter part of 1981 – Grand Marine (Holdings Ltd) and China Underwriters (Life and General Insurance Company Ltd). Notwithstanding poor operating conditions, the company has still managed – somewhat reluctantly – to grab headlines through such events as the formation of a joint venture company with Hongkong Land (The Hongkong Land Company Ltd) to hold $HK1 billion worth of luxury residential buildings and rumours of participation again with Hongkong Land in the latter’s purchase of a major interest in Hongkong Electric (Holdings Ltd) – rumours which are in fact unfounded.

 

‘While many investors continue to trouble themselves over who are the ultimate controllers of the Carrian Group, we have felt that it is more relevant and worthwhile to concentrate on the public company Carrian Investments (Ltd), on its prospects and financial viability. The benevolent attitude of the parent company Carrian Holdings (Ltd) has already been proven.

 

‘The next two years are likely to prove a trying time for many Hong Kong companies, not least of all those like Carrian Investments in property and shipping. Nevertheless we feel confident that Carrian has the management capability to capitalise on its strong asset base and sound financial position and produce above average rates of earnings growth in future years.

 

‘Recommendation

 

‘While it remains difficult to estimate with any degree of accuracy future profits for Carrian Investments – even for the current year (Financial Year) – one can feel reasonable sure that the forecast of a maintained dividend of 36 cents per share will be more than covered by the year’s (Financial Year’s) earnings. On this basis, the prospective yield of 18.80 percent is in itself a compelling reason for considering Carrian Investments.

 

‘Furthermore, we are confident that the prospects are for a stronger element in the company’s profits of recurrent earnings derived in particular from property, transportation and insurance, which will provide a firm base onto which the company’s established profitable trading activities can be added. Once confidence returns to the stock and property markets (of Hongkong) and overall economic conditions improve, we feel confident that Carrian Investments will enjoy an above-average re-rating in the market place.’

 

(The above is a verbatim transcript with the grammatical/spelling mistakes, having been included as they appeared when the Special Review was first published and then distributed to clients of Vickers da Costa and Company Ltd) 

Exactly, one year later, the Chairman of Carrian Investments Ltd, Mr George Tan Soon Gin, and his Number Two, Mr Bentley Ho, were arrested by officers of the Commercial Crime Bureau of The Royal Hongkong Police Force on fraud-related charges. 

Within one month of that event, Carrian Investments Ltd and its 56 subsidiaries, as well as Carrian Holdings Ltd, the ultimate holding company of Carrian Investments Ltd, were well on their way to being placed into Receivership. 

The debts of the above companies were in excess of $HK10 billion, it was discovered. 

The ‘Special Review’ of Vickers da Costa and Company Ltd in respect of the ‘stronger element in the company’s – referring to Carrian Investments Ltd – profits and recurrent earnings’ did not materialise; and, neither did the ‘maintained dividend of 36 cents per share … more than covered by this year’s (that is, the 1982 Financial Year’s) earnings.’ 

About the only thing that was ‘compelling’, to quote the word, used by Vickers da Costa and Company Ltd in its ‘Special Review’ of Carrian Investments Ltd, was the unloading of the scrip of Carrian Investments Ltd and its publicly listed subsidiaries before it was suitable for wallpaper, only.