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Singapore citizen accused of foreign interference linked to China 'copper king'

Bloomberg • 6 min read
Singapore citizen accused of foreign interference linked to China 'copper king'
Singapore invoked the foreign interference law for first time on Philip Chan, who's activities alleged to be directed towards political end. Photo: Bloomberg
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The first Singapore citizen to be tagged as a “politically significant person” under a 2021 law on foreign interference oversees the multimillion-dollar property portfolio of a Chinese metal billionaire.

The island’s home affairs ministry said Friday it was invoking the foreign interference law against 59-year-old Philip Chan Man Ping. Chan manages the real estate investment arm of a copper conglomerate owned by Chinese billionaire Wang Wenyin.

Chan has been assessed to have “shown susceptibility to be influenced by foreign actors, and willingness to advance their interests,” the ministry said, adding his activities were “directed towards a political end in Singapore.” The ministry didn’t name any country in its statement or mention Wang.

Hong Kong-born Chan is the managing director of Wen Way Investments Pte, the Singapore-based property unit of Amer International Group Co., according to Wen Way’s website. Amer is a Fortune Global 500 firm headquartered in Shenzhen that mainly mines, processes and trades copper.

Wang, dubbed China’s “copper king” by Chinese media, is ranked as the nation’s 35th richest man on the Bloomberg Billionaires Index. His $6.6 billion fortune is dominated by Amer, which he founded in the 1990s. The firm once boasted it was responsible for 10% of the country’s copper imports. Amer didn’t immediately respond to requests for comment sent outside business hours. Wen Way couldn’t be reached for comment.

Singapore’s home affairs ministry said it informed Chan on Feb. 2 of plans to designate him as a so-called “politically significant person.” He would have two weeks from the notice to make representations to the authorities, after which he must disclose annually political donations of S$10,000 ($7,440) or more that he has received and accepted, and declare his foreign affiliations and any migration benefits. Designated individuals may appeal against the decision directly to the home affairs minister.

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Chan, a property-industry veteran who emigrated to Singapore more than three decades ago, is also the chief executive officer of real estate agency C & H Properties Pte. Amer acquired a majority stake in the firm in 2013.

He oversees Wen Way along with Liu Jiehong, Wang’s China-born wife, who is executive director. Liu, a co-founder of Amer, also has Singapore citizenship, according to business records. A native of Anhui province, her listed residence is a good class bungalow — Singapore’s most prestigious class of landed homes — at Windsor Park Road, a high-end enclave near a nature reserve.

Chan has been president since 2011 of the Kowloon Club, a support group for immigrants mainly from Hong Kong. In that role, he penned columns for local paper Lianhe Zaobao and interacted with local politicians including some government ministers, according to the club website. The club did not respond to a request for comment sent outside business hours.

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Million-Dollar Property Portfolio 

Wen Way, which Chan co-founded in 2012 with Amer, has grown its portfolio in Singapore to about S$200 million worth of commercial properties, according to its website. This includes the retail section of The Sail @ Marina Bay, a high-profile waterfront development in the central business district, as well as shops in Far East Plaza, a mall in the Orchard Road shopping belt.

China is Singapore’s largest trading partner and a key source of tourists, but Chinese wealth coming into the state, particularly into the property sector, has been under scrutiny. More than 200 properties have been frozen after a record money-laundering bust that began last year involving China-born individuals, with the amount of assets seized at over S$3 billion.

Chan declined a request for an interview. In an earlier response to queries from the Lianhe Zaobao daily, he said he “really did not know” why he was issued the notice and was not told why. He told the paper he will seek to understand the law first before responding. 

Wooing the elite 

A growing number of rich immigrants from China have flocked to Singapore in recent years amid a wealth crackdown by President Xi Jinping, a trend that accelerated during the pandemic. 

Chan founded an independent firm called Mutual Benefits Realty Pte in 2010, according to business records. The firm focuses on “serving high net-worth clients from China in their acquisition and investment in both high-end and mid-range properties in Singapore,” according to his company biography. 

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He started a similarly-named company in 2007 as a business and immigration consultancy, according to business records. He also set up an education consultancy called “China Link” in 2020 to “nurture better understanding and more appreciation toward China” within Southeast Asian communities.

Chan was invited last March to China’s most important annual political gathering, the Two Sessions, as an overseas delegate. He has been increasingly vocal about what he said is the distortion of China’s image by “hypocritical” Western media. 

“We have a duty as overseas Chinese to tell China’s story well when we are abroad, and we will make every effort to do so, and spread the message about the excellence of Chinese traditions and culture,” he said after the meeting in Beijing.

Chan has had extensive ties to business and grassroots organizations in Singapore. He is listed as president of the Hong Kong Singapore Business Association. He was a patron to committees that organize social activities to foster nation-building under the purview of the People’s Association, a government body. He was also a committee member for SPD, a local disabilities charity, according to a now-removed profile on its website.

A spokesperson for the People’s Association said that Chan “has stepped down from all grassroots appointments,” without elaborating on the timeframe or the reasons. The Hong Kong Singapore Business Association and SPD did not respond to requests for comment sent outside business hours.

Chan’s advocacy had attracted the attention of authorities in the past. He got a warning from police in 2019 after hosting an illegal public gathering in his bar located at The Sail to express support for authorities in Hong Kong during mass protests there.

Singapore has said it wouldn’t apply the foreign interference law against foreign individuals and publications commenting and reporting on Singaporean politics. Critics of the law have said it gives the government sweeping powers to target dissent and promotes self-censorship. 

The government recently passed a new law empowering authorities to screen investments more closely in sectors critical to its national interests.

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