Boy Racer for Chief Minister?

As expensive as it gets

Bugatti buy-out plan

Sulaiman Abdul Rahman Taib wanted to buy out Bugatti, manufacturers of the world’s most expensive cars, to add to the family’s ‘hundred  businesses’, according to one of his close college friends.  However, his Dad, Abdul Taib Mahmud, described as ‘Malaysian Monarchy’ by Rahman’s pal, was less enthusiastic. The Chief Minister, who clearly controls the family purse strings, vetoed the plan.  It had taken Rahman a week to get an audience with his Dad in order to discuss the idea.

The disclosures about Rahman Taib (as he was known in the US) come in an on-line article for the Bugatti Review by Kevin C Limjoco, who was a college friend of Rahman’s in San Francisco and a member of his fast set in the States.  Taib’s younger son clearly acted the part of a multi-millionaire playboy during his period in San Francisco, according to this and other reports, and was a notorious fast car fanatic.  Conversely, business associates say he failed to show any business acumen when put in charge of the secretive Taib property company in the US, Sakti International.

A playboy with violent passions

The article in the on-line ‘Bugatti Review’ gives a telling insight into how the Taib family are regarded by onlookers abroad, namely as jett-setting multi-millionaires akin to Arab Princes or Sultans of Brunei.  On one occasion, it is known that in a fit of passion young Rahman even smashed up one of his classic cars, a million dollar Bugatti, with a fire extinguisher.  However, his father clearly forgave the incident as he subsequently recalled his son to Sarawak, where he inherited his father’s seat in the Federal Parliament and was recently appointed Deputy Tourism Minister, a job he has now mysteriously abandoned.

Worryingly, there seems no recognition in Taib circles abroad that in fact the Chief Minister of Sarawak is merely a salaried employee of the State, on a modest income and subject to regular elections to office.  The concept of the Chief Minister as a ‘Godfather’ figure behind a hundred businesses is even more disturbing, not least because it is undoubtedly true.

As the political figure in charge of governing Sarawak, Abdul Taib Mahmud has no right to be involved in business ventures, primarily because this would clash with his official duties and create conflicts of interest.  It is for this reason that Taib has always maintained the facade of a family active in business.  Now that we know that he is indeed in control of the money and keeps his family at his beck and call, he should openly declare his activities and publicise all his interests immediately.

A suitable successor?

Despite his playboy record, youthful Sulaiman Abdul Rahman Taib has often been touted as a likely successor to his ailing and aged father.  Thus, while Taib Mahmud has started to visibly crumble in the face of recent political failures and exposure for political corruption, the Taib political circles are clearly looking at immediate family to succeed, as if Sarawak were indeed a Monarchy to be passed from father to son, rather than a democratic state of Malaysia, which is its official status.  It is this attitude that is likely to turn a normal political handover into a succession crisis for Sarawak.

Read the full article by Kevin C Limjoco (a truly compelling read for Bugatti-lovers and residents of Sarawak) below:

Kevin C. Limjoco

IT ALL BEGAN AT A POSH ITALIAN CLOTHING boutique in Tiburon, Marin County, California. I was not shopping, but my friend was. He leaned over to me as we were browsing and asked: “have you ever heard of a Bugatti EB110, lah?” my eyes lit up and immediately said, “yes, of course, the car is awesome but aren’t they nearly impossible to find?” He simply smiled. It was the summer of 1994; my friend and I were juniors majoring in business at the University of San Francisco. His name is Datuk Sulaiman Rahman Taib.

He is part of the Malaysian Monarchy, his father was and still is the Chief Minister of Sarawak, and his family owns over 100 companies, ranging from Sarawak Securities to logging, hence, the reason he refers to me as “lah” or buddy.

He was the first person I knew that had personally owned a vast number of ultra exotic automobiles. People who did not know Rahman were perplexed and ultimately intimidated by him. He seemingly had a new car every couple of weeks, and had a dedicated car shop and storage facility, (Conversion Techniques owned by John Siao,) that catered to his every whim. He had everything from an old K-type Mercedes Benz worth over a million dollars, an SL Gullwing, Ferrari 355 spider, Rolls Royce Corniche, Maserati Kamsin, to a “regular” S500 Mercedes. He had so many cars that he would routinely send them off to his home in Sarawak to clear his garage of the clutter. Therefore, when he asked me whether I knew what a Bugatti EB 110 was, my palms started to moisten because I knew that Rahman takes his “hobby” very seriously. He has “agents” scour the globe looking for cars that he desires

As we stepped out of the boutique, he excitedly told me that he had not one, but two Bugatti EB 110s coming to San Francisco! One, he picked up from a Japanese fellow somewhere near Detroit and the other near Louisiana I believe. It is an amazing feat in its self that he was able to find these cars in the US and in the most unlikely locals. He never disclosed the amount he paid because he always felt it was rude to discuss figures amongst friends. Man, I was curious though, because at its height these cars were worth over US$500,000.00. Well, I will never know. He did not volunteer it and I never asked. The EB110 prices itself ‘humbly’ between the Lamborghini Diablo, Ferrari 512TR and the Jaguar XJ220. It seemed to be a bargain considering its high level of achievement and prestigious marques, but still world sales never made up for the cost of building and marketing the automobile.

Two weeks later I was over at Rahman’s for Sunday lunch when he motioned me to go with him to his garage, I was ecstatic. I knew well enough that he was anti-climatic. Bugatti built a grand total of 154 cars, which included the 12 cars in the assembly line. Michael Schumacher is one of the lucky owners. Moreover, Rahman has two of them! There it was… a black Bugatti EB110 SS! I was in awe. What a super car: mid-engine, 3.5liter, 12 cylinder, 60V, Quad cam, 4 turbo, All wheel drive, 6 speed, carbon fiber frame, six piston ABS brakes, 611 bhp, 0-100 in 3.4 seconds, 355 km/h top speed, and 480 lbs. torque! On top of this, the car’s interior boasted such luxuries as a full Burl wood interior, a proper luggage compartment, power everything, a CD changer and sculptured leather seats! Rahman’s EB110SS is still the fastest car that I have ever had the privilege to ride in. One Sunday, we drove past a café on Broadway street in downtown San Francisco where all exotic car owners conglomerate to show off their steeds, you should have seen the piercing eyes of the Ferrari and Lamborghini owners as we inched by then had all 4 tires scream in unison as Rahman floored the car to the next block! The Bugatti is truly a rocket ship on wheels. I recall a race once where a Bugatti EB110 GT- the lesser of the brothers – challenged a Ferrari F40 in Laguna Seca. The Ferrari won by a hair, but the EB110 driver drove with his aircon on, stereo blaring, and sat in opulence. However, that is another story, sorry folks.

Because of the car and the research that Rahman made on purchasing it, a unique opportunity presented itself. Through his network of moles in the capital of sports cars, Modena, Italy, (home to Ferrari, De Tomaso, Masseratti, and Lamborghini), he discovered that the Bugatti factory – owned by Italian tycoon Romano Artioli – was going bankrupt.

He quickly made contact with the owner only to find out in secret (a few months before the news went public) that the issue was already at the courts. Artioli had already filed for bankruptcy. Once again through his vast resources, Rahman had somehow sent his lawyers to Italy to jockey for position in the event that Bugatti would be sold. He miraculously secured the top position, above a list that included such huge names as Volkswagen and Fiat.

At this point, it would seem that Rahman’s ambition to be a world force in the car industry would be insured. His driving force was as relentless as the car itself proved to be. His inspiration at the time (1994) was that Malaysia had just began producing their very own car line, Proton (through a partnership with Mitsubishi Motors Japan) and that Prime Minister Suharto of Indonesia had the majority stake of Lamborghini. He wanted to top them all! Now back to the Italian courts, the amount needed to purchase all of Bugatti, which included the entire factory in Modena, all land owned by Bugatti, all patents, designs, plans, trademarks, machinery, positions with sister companies and other manufacturers, and the remaining unpainted 12 EB110s in the factory, hold on to your seats: a “mere” US$25 million!

Where did the Philippines fit in all of this? The ultimate plan was to have joint manufacturing facilities in Sarawak and the Philippines. Bugatti had a secret plan to build an affordable sports sedan that would compete with the BMW 3 series and the Mercedes Benz C-class. The EB110 would be revived again but built in Modena by order basis. The new sports sedan was designed with the help of Lotus to reduce building costs, using their experience with a more economical engine, chassis, suspension and coach works. The majority of the car would be built in Sarawak with the remaining 35% either in Subic or in Clark. In order for this vision to be realized, we had to give the courts a bank guarantee of US$5 Million to hold our position for 30 days. As a sweetener to individuals who helped get the bank guarantee, Rahman would give a brand new EB110 in any color from the last remaining stocks in Italy. This is where things get a little complicated. Though Rahman himself had access to the full US$25M, let alone a meager $5M guarantee, he still needed the 30 days to get approval and a final blessing from his father Datuk Taib without having committed any financial responsibilities. (That was left to me since I was gunning for a Philippine stake in this enterprise.)

Within days we both left the US and head to our prospective countries to execute our plans. His task was to get ultimate approval; my task was to get the bank guarantee. Time was against us at every turn. It took Rahman a week to get an audience with his father. I on the other hand was scrabbling all over Manila looking for prospective investors to issue the guarantee. It was a lot more difficult than I had imagined convincing people of the exciting opportunity. What was ironic was that I only needed to cough up a guarantee and not the physical money. Rahman would be the one to pay for every cent after 30 days and not only would we be able to create jobs for our compatriots, but everyone would be justly compensated with a bonus of an EB110! We had a few days left now and Rahman’s father had not given his approval. I was hard pressed to keep trying, I knew that if we could get the position within 30 days that it would not be unreasonable to believe that Rahman would be able to draw the US$25M; he had it in his own bank accounts! The final hour arrived, Rahman did not get his father’s blessing, and I was short of US$2M. That was indeed a dark hour. I pleaded with Rahman to simply give the remaining balance for the guarantee, which would give him enough time to ask his father to reconsider. He would not budge. He resigned himself to the fact that it was a cultural difference and that I would not understand. I was flabbergasted. My dreams had crumbled. The loss of face on both parties was so great that it affected our friendship severely. A few weeks later, there was a public announcement at the press that Volkswagen had ultimately purchased what could have been a tremendous future for our fellow citizens. I end this story with a heavy heart, but who knows? As it once was said, “as one door closes, another will open.”

Used with the permission of:

Kevin C. Limjoco

Senior Editor

C! Magazine

The article was taken from a Beta website of C! Magazine. New website is under construction.



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