Thousands pay respects to casino billionaire

PUBLISHED : Monday, 29 October, 2007, 12:00am
UPDATED : Monday, 29 October, 2007, 12:00am

Thousands of people, from ordinary Malaysians to royalty and business tycoons, are arriving in the small town of Gohtong Jaya to pay their last respects to Lim Goh Tong, the billionaire casino magnate who died last week.

Visitors to his villa - halfway up the hills between Kuala Lumpur and the famous Genting Highlands resort which Lim founded - walked under white canopies from the road and were ushered into a main hall where his coffin lies on view ahead of today's funeral.

The fascination with Lim's rags to riches story has only been amplified with his death, aged 90, last Tuesday.

Before last week, the public knew little about Lim beyond the fact that he donated huge amounts to charities, Chinese education and hospitals. When he died, the founder of the Genting Highlands casino had a personal net worth of more than US$4 billion.

Now, members of the public are for the first time seeing inside his home, and friends and family are giving insights into the enigmatic magnate. Mourners and the media have even been allowed into Lim's living room, packed with memorabilia.

Lim was a penniless and illiterate migrant when he arrived in Malaysia from Fujian at 19. He worked as a carpenter's apprentice before trying his hand at business.

'He only spoke his native Hokkien and a smattering of Malay,' said Oh Su Yan, 83, a friend and early business ally, speaking at the wake on Friday. 'He played as hard as he worked.' Mr Oh said 'meals and all night mahjong' were Lim's main pastimes. 'He was brilliant in many strange ways, and had a knack for business success,' he said.

'He smelt business ... he used his nose better than a Harvard graduate uses his brains,' said a Mr Wong, 79, another of Lim's business friends at the wake who declined to give his full name. According to Lim's long-time friend Hanif Omar, a former national police chief, Lim's favourite food was plain congee.

Hong Kong tycoon Stanley Ho Hung-sun sent a 2-metre-high wreath.

Lim will be buried at a special memorial park near his casino resort.