Trump’s Hosts at Summit Are Low-Profile Real Estate Billionaires

(Bloomberg) -- The family that owns the hotel hosting this week’s U.S.-North Korea summit in Singapore could best be described as the un-Trumps.

While the Kwee family has amassed a $4.2 billion real estate fortune that eclipses that of the current occupant of the White House, they’re known for keeping to themselves. The Singapore-based Kwees -- who’ve developed projects from New York to Sydney to the Maldives and compete with Trump on some fronts -- tend to avoid the press, not to mention Twitter, according to people who know them. They declined requests for interviews for this story.

“The Kwees are low key about their wealth,” said Jasdeep Sandhu, owner of the Singapore-based Gajah Gallery, which has worked with them.

Still, the Trump-Kim summit is casting a bright light on the traditionally reserved clan, which quietly assembled its real estate empire after their patriarch, textile tycoon Henry Kwee, arrived in Singapore from Indonesia in 1958. Sons Kwee Liong Keng, Kwee Liong Tek, Kwee Liong Seen and Kwee Liong Phing have taken over since their father’s death.

Their Pontiac Land Group built high-end condos and luxury hotels under the Ritz-Carlton and Conrad brands. A lesser-known property, Capella Singapore, on Sentosa island off the country’s southern coast, will be the site of the summit. Once a pirate hangout and base for colonial-era British artillery officers, the resort island offers a single point of access and relatively little traffic, making it attractive from a security and logistics standpoint.

NYC Tower

The Kwees acquired the Capella Hotel Group, which manages nine hotels under the Capella and Solis brands, in 2017 from partner Horst Schulze, a former Ritz-Carlton executive who has stayed on as an adviser.

Among Pontiac Land’s overseas deals are a plan to turn the iconic Department of Lands and Department of Education buildings into a hotel in Sydney, and to build an 82-story mixed-use tower on New York’s West 53rd Street. The midtown skyscraper, which is two blocks from Trump Tower, will include a 36,000 square-foot expansion of Museum of Modern Art galleries.

The Kwees also have a project in Bali, Indonesia, where a Trump-branded resort is one of two licensing deals the President’s firm has in Indonesia with MNC Group. A second Trump deal in Jakarta features a theme park being built by a Chinese state-owned construction company. Trump, whose net worth is $2.8 billion, according to the Bloomberg Billionaires Index, also has licensed his name for projects in the Philippines and India.

A third generation of the Kwee family is being groomed to lead the company in its international expansion. Evan Kwee, son of Pontiac Land Chairman Kwee Liong Tek, took to Instagram to laud the “historic” summit in response to a post by the White House spokeswoman Sarah Huckabee Sanders confirming the Capella Singapore resort as the location.

©2018 Bloomberg L.P.

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