KUALA LUMPUR, Feb 17 — For Tiah Joo Kim, the son of Datuk Tony Tiah and a property tycoon ranked by Forbes as Malaysia's 35th richest man, the once-prized connection to Donald Trump has begun to lose its lustre.
Their two families' businesses are closely intertwined through the Vancouver Trump International Hotel, a 63-storey glasshouse building worth RM1.2 billion announced in 2013 and scheduled to open by month-end.
The younger Tiah and Trump's son, Donald Jr, also work closely together in their day-to-day business operations and built a bond based on their shared experience as the second-generation of their family dynasties.
But the controversies surrounding Trump's administration is now taking its toll on this relationship, according to the Financial Times that said the US president's refusal to demonstrably detach himself from his businesses could subject the Tiahs to potential scrutiny from US authorities.
The business paper said the Vancouver development — the first Trump hotel property to open since his inauguration on January 20 — highlights the potential for conflicts of interest and violations of the US Constitution since Trump is a sitting president.
Although Trump said he has put his share of the family business into a blind trust, he has not publicly released documents to demonstrate how far removed he is from the multiple business that range from property to retail.
According to FT, Trump’s 2016 financial disclosure also showed that he received nearly US$36,000 (RM160,488) in management fees from “THC Vancouver Management Corp”, while fees from other Trump-run properties go up to millions of dollars.
A US citizens’ groups is also suing over a financial link between Beijing and the Vancouver development, through a third-party based in Hong Kong, claiming that Trump was violating the law by accepting payments from another government.
"Like some of Mr Trump’s other properties, the Vancouver development raises the risk of violating the emoluments clause in the US constitution prohibiting elected officials from receiving benefits from foreign governments," the paper wrote.
The claims are notwithstanding the continued allegations linking Trump and his administration to the Kremlin, both politically and financially
The Vancouver hotel project is developed and owned by Tiah Global, where the younger Tiah is chief executive, while the Trump Organisation receives fees for licensing its name as well as additional “incentives” if revenue targets are met.
But even before Trump won the US presidency and ran smack into the controversy-ridden first weeks of his administration, he had run a divisive campaign that led the Tiahs to previously say they were considering selling the project.
Trump's remarks about women and minorities, in particular, had put immense pressure on his business partners to distance themselves from his politics.
“The building comes to represent the worst in humankind with that name on it: bullying, sexism and intolerance,” Vancouver city councillor Kerry Jang told FT.
Jang and other city politicians including Vancouver's mayor are now working to have the Trump name scrubbed from the tower.
The younger Tiah outwardly defended the Trump family and told FT that he will not bow to pressure to cut ties with them or submit to the efforts to rename the building.
“I am locked in with the contract,” he said in an interview with the Financial Times.
But he also told FT that the US president's family was “aware I’m under pressure but what am I going to do? From a business standpoint they haven’t done anything wrong.”
The Tiah family's wealth comes from Tony Tiah, the chairman of TA Enterprise in Malaysia. The firm owns and controls an array of businesses that span from property to financial services.
The Tiah family is also no stranger to controversy. The elder Tiah was fined in 1999 with helping businessman Datuk Soh Chee Wen defraud Omega Securities, a midsized stock brokerage firm.