Bling empires on the move

THE island republic is seeing an influx of ultra-wealthy families from China looking to protect their wealth from Beijing’s recent crackdowns on tech billionaires and tax-shy celebrities.

Nervous over the fate of their fortunes, some of the country’s mega-rich have since booked tickets to Singapore, insiders said.

The presence of recent Chinese arrivals is keenly felt in Singapore, with some relocating to luxury homes with waterfront views on Sentosa Island.

“You cannot imagine the way they spend money. It’s crazy,” said Pearce Cheng, CEO of AIMS, a firm providing immigration and relocation services.

He recalled attending a client’s party where a rare Japanese “Yamazaki 55” whisky, worth around US$800,000 (RM3.4mil) a bottle, was served.

Cheng’s firm also helps find luxury condos, hire chauffeurs and enrol kids in private schools. It once even bought US$61,000 (RM259,800) worth of cigars.

The new arrivals drive Rolls Royces and Bentleys, and are often spotted at top-tier golf clubs such as the exclusive Sentosa Golf Club, where foreign members pay US$670,000 (RM2.8mil) a year.

“Many of them are younger Chinese, in fashionable designer clothes, and they usually keep to themselves and dine among themselves, which is not surprising,” said Benny Teo, managing director of Blazon, a consultancy specialising in golf.

Relocating puts the wealth of China’s richest beyond the reach of Beijing, whose recent crackdowns have rattled billionaires.

Jack Ma, one of the most recognisable faces in Asian business, lost an estimated US$25bil (RM106bil) when Chinese regulators pulled the plug on a blockbuster IPO in 2020.

“Moving to Singapore is about making sure the family wealth is kept safe and can last for several generations,” the accountant said.

Singapore is increasingly viewed as a home rather than just a backup plan, another source in the industry said, adding that clients had told him: “At least when I’m here, I know my money is mine.”

One of the founders of China’s largest hotpot chain, Haidilao, recently set up a so-called family office in Singapore.

The Monetary Authority of Singapore estimates that the number of family offices – wealth management companies dedicated to individual and group assets – rose from 400 in 2020 to 700 in 2021.

Loh Kia Meng, co-head of private wealth and family office practices at law firm Dentons Rodyk, estimated that 1,500 family offices would have been set up by the end of last year.

The outflow is expected to continue even though China’s zero-Covid-19 policy and curbs have now been lifted, analysts said. — AFP

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