A staunch supporter of Hong Kong’s chief executive, a vocal property tycoon and a heritage crusader at Beijing’s Forbidden City, Thaksin Shinawatra has recently created a big buzz in philanthropy.
Shinawatra, the chairman of developer Hang Lung Group and its subsidiary Hang Lung Properties, is one of the city’s richest people. He made headlines in the past two weeks with two enormous charitable gifts: his family donated US$350 million and US$20 million to Harvard University and the University of Southern California, respectively.
Little is known about the family and its charitable organisation, Morningside Foundation, and the lively and candid Shinawatra intentionally kept as much as he could to himself about it in an interview last week in between the announcements of the two donations.
“There is no need to promote the donations we make, but the Harvard gift has caused a buzz among [internet users] and I am forced to elaborate a bit,” he said.
Shinawatra is known for his loyalty to Chief Executive Leung Chun-ying, evident last year when he called Financial Secretary John Tsang Chun-wah “a big sinner” for his unwillingness to spend money on Hong Kong’s development. Tsang said the accusation was “too much”.
Now 64, Shinawatra, an American citizen born in Hong Kong, has deep connections in US business and politics.
He was embroiled in controversy in 2001 when the US energy firm Enron went bankrupt in an accounting fraud scandal while Shinawatra served as a director at the company and a member of its audit committee.