IT is midsummer, 1984, and the police are ready to interview John Wimbush, former chairman of the Hong Kong Law Society and a senior partner of the territory's oldest law firm, Deacon's. It never happened. They found him dead in his swimming pool, a length of nylon rope around his neck with the other end tied to a concrete manhole cover. There were no signs of injuries. A senior Malaysian banker is found murdered in a scratchy patch of jungle outside Kuala Lumpur. He had been dismembered. Police were unable to ascertain a motive. Another Malaysian banker, Jalil Ibrahim, checked into the Regent Hotel, met up with an associate and placed a 'Do Not Disturb' sign on the door. He ordered a light lunch and coffee. It was his last meal. He was strangled with the cord of a bathrobe, his body placed in a large suitcase and carried to the lobby with the help of a bellhop, placed in a taxi and dumped in a banana grove in the New Territories. Police arrested Mak Foon Than for the crime. He jumped out of the window when he was busted - but survived. Three dead bodies and one name links them - Carrian, the territory's most infamous company headed by the territory's most notorious businessman, Tan Soon-gin, aka George Tan. How is Carrian linked to the deaths? The lawyer who died in the deep end of his pool was due to be questioned on Carrian's sale of Gammon House, now known as Bank of America Tower. The Malaysian banker who ended up as jungle compost worked for Bank Bumiputra, Carrian's largest lender. The banker who left the Regent Hotel in a suitcase was conducting an internal audit into Bumiputra Malaysia Finance's loans to Carrian and had uncovered what he termed 'blunders'. This is what he wrote in his private diary: 'I have tried to tell some of the truth but what good will it do? The lies and falsehoods are too much.' It was 13 years ago that the Carrian empire imploded in the largest corporate collapse in Hong Kong's history; 13 years that have seen Tan fade from the public eye into obscurity. But now he's back. After more than a decade on bail, Tan was remanded in custody on March 22 and will face US$560 million fraud and conspiracy charges as well as charges of false accounting and corruption in a trial. On Friday, he pleaded guilty to two charges of conspiracy to defraud Bumiputra Malaysia Finance, the Hong Kong arm of Bank Bumiputra, of $238 million between 1980 and 1983. Who is George Tan? Does anyone still remember the character that spiced bar-room gossip back in the mid-80s? Most know enough to link the name Tan and the company Carrian, but the man himself was a fascinating combination of shyster, shoe-shine man and successful entrepreneur - all that is best and worst about Hong Kong rolled into one medium height, quick thinking and desperately bourgeois alleged crook. Answering the question 'Who is he?' is easier said than done. Constructing the most basic details of Tan's curriculum vitae is an exercise fraught with danger. For example, the seemingly innocuous question 'Where was he born?' is virtually unanswerable. He is, he used to say, Singaporean. When he was not Singaporean, he was saying he was born in the Malaysian state of Sarawak. If that did not suffice, he would say he was born in China in 1933, drawing confusion as to why he sometimes travelled on a Paraguayan passport. Although he often lied about his age, it appears he was sent to England when he was in his early 20s to study engineering but quit and went to Malaysia where he freely admitted he was involved in 'some projects'. He then moved to Singapore where he became involved in 'some other projects' before moving to Hong Kong in 1971, grasping, he said, some family money with which to set up a business. Depending on his mood, the cash injection varied between HK$1 million and $10 million. Depending on the mood of those who knew him, this cash injection varied between being real and imaginary. Rumours abounded that he was backed by a Malaysian politician. When this was denied, it emerged Carrian may have been financed by a portion of the Marcos millions. There were even rumours it was Arab money. Tan plodded on, revealing nothing and then berating what he called 'the gweilo press' for demanding answers. When quizzed on the subject, Tan used to delight in leaping up from his desk and stabbing his finger at a massive list. 'My shareholders,' he would yell. 'I am responsible to them - 35,000 to 40,000 of them.' But as it transpired, the money belonged to the banks - a situation that was revealed as soon as they started wanting it back. He refused to be photographed, contradicted himself three or four times during an interview and seemed perversely unaware of the irony of leaping out of one of his seven Rolls-Royce's, or 27 Mercedes, and insisting, as he once did, that: 'I believe in the simple life - sincere, honest. I enjoy going to the dai pai dong for a bowl of noodles and a cup of coffee costing $2.' But cups of cheap coffee were the exception not the rule. The rule was conspicuous consumption, a bourgeois fascination with material wealth and a pervasive belief in supernatural powers. On the consumption side, Tan was a gifted spender of other people's money. His taste in art was eclectic to say the least. His office walls were hung with a curious mix of styles including traditional Chinese, Western and Japanese paintings. His former personal aide, Thomas Heysek, remembered Tan pointing to one wall and saying: 'That wall cost me US$160,000, that one over there $120,000.' On one notable occasion, a visitor to Tan's office indicated he was soon to visit London. Tan pulled out his cheque book and said: 'Here, buy me $100,000 worth of art.' His consumption of Davidoff cigars was as prodigious and indiscriminate as his appreciation of the visual arts. Being restless by nature, he used to run from meeting to meeting in different rooms of his offices. Rather than take his cigar with him, he used to keep a cigar burning in every room so he could smoke wherever he was. He said leaving the room with his cigar indicated to his guest he could be some time, but leaving the cigar there indicated he would be back soon. Mr Heysek said for some guests, the presence of Tan's smoke was enough to keep them waiting an hour or more. Despite his aspirations for the high life, his roots sometimes came back to haunt him. At a meeting with a high-ranking German banker, Tan asked him if he liked fish-head curry. The banker said he did, at which point Tan asked the cook to whip up a curry and then ate the whole meal with his fingers, leaving the banker picking at it with his knife and fork. He apparently said with pride that this was how he had always eaten this particular dish when he was growing up. But perhaps his most unusual quirk was his un-shakeable belief in fung shui. According to those who worked with him, he would decide how much he intended to pay for a company by assessing the mystical significance of the sums involved. He would also deliberately delay the signing of a deal so that it could be completed on a more auspicious date. His fellow executives also insisted that rather like a corpulent cigar-toking Cinderella, he became notably more nervous as midnight approached. But the similarity with Cinderella ends there. She went from rags to riches - he went from riches to rags.