Singapore billionaire Ong Beng Seng is believed to be looking to sell down his firm's 50 per cent stake in the GBP385 million (about HK$5.18 billion) Canary Riverside property development in London's Docklands. It was confirmed in London late last night that Mr Ong's Singapore-based Hotel Properties Ltd (HPL) was in discussions with Pidemco Land, the Singapore Government-linked investor, which already has 30 pc stake in Canary Riverside. A Canary Riverside official said the talks centred around a potential reduction in HPL's stake. HPL has raised more than GBP200 million since the beginning of the year through off-loading interests in a string of hotel, property and fashion projects from the United States to Australia. Acquaintances claim Mr Ong is restructuring and building a war chest ready to make some cheap acquisitions in Southeast Asia on the back of the region's recent financial crisis. He wanted to sell in the West and buy in the East, they said. Mr Ong has a reputation as one of Southeast Asia's shrewdest traders. However, there have also been rumours Mr Ong and his flamboyant wife Christina could be facing financial difficulties, something their friends have been quick to deny. Speculation has been rife since the tycoon sold his private jet late last year, complaining about the cost of maintenance. Last month, Hotel Properties reported a worse-than-expected 27 per cent decline in profits for last year to US$19.5 million, partly as a result of losses from the group's Brashs music retailer in Australia, which has since been closed. Like most companies, HPL's share price has taken a bashing. In February, Mr Ong sold his 50 per cent private stake in the Four Seasons Hotel in London for an undisclosed sum to his long-standing business partner Prince Al Waleed bin Talal, nephew of Saudi Arabia's King Fahd. He is believed to have received GBP45 million. Prince Al Waleed has also increased his stake in Planet Hollywood International from 1 per cent to 4 per cent. Mr Ong has a 23.6 per cent interest and is a major shareholder in the Hard Rock Cafe franchise. He also sold a small stake in Richard Branson's Virgin Entertainment Group in Britain. Two more London hotels, the 155-room Metropolitan in Old Park Lane and 41-room Halkin Hotel in Knightsbridge, are also rumoured to be on the market. He has already sold his private interests in Hotel Pennsylvania in New York, two Australian hotels and a majority interest in Donna Karan Japan KK. Adding to suspicion, last month, Singapore government investment arm Temasek Holdings took a 20 per cent stake in Mr Ong's Hard Rock Hotel & Resort beach hotel project in Bali which had been stalled. Under the Hard Rock Hotel & Resort brand, Mr Ong had envisaged building 12 theme hotels in Asia, the Caribbean and Europe. One of Mr Ong's aides reportedly said Mr Ong 'laughed his head off' at the suggestion that Temasek's GBP5 million investment in his Hard Rock Hotel venture was a bail out. Irrespective, the latest talk of Pidemco raising its stake in Canary Riverside will no doubt raise similar thoughts. Unravelling the mystery is difficult. Mr Ong is notoriously media shy. He has only given two media interviews in the past 25 years and has not spoken to analysts for eight years. Unconfirmed reports claim Pidemco will raise its Canary Riverside holding to 50 per cent and become the controlling shareholder. Mr Ong declined to comment last night. The remainder of the Canary Riverside project is owned by Canary Wharf Ltd, which is in turn owned by a group of international investors including Prince Al Waleed and Paul Reichmann. The Reichmann family's firm, Olympia & York, was the original developer of the London Docklands scheme before it ran into financial difficulties. Canary Riverside fronts the Thames in one of the most sought-after parts of the 35-hectare Canary Wharf district. Work on the first phase, which includes 322 luxury apartments and a 140-room five-star hotel, began in June and is scheduled to be completed late next year.