AS ONE of the territory's most charming and witty businessmen, it is not the first time the ever-smiling Lee Ming Tee has stood centre stage. This time, however, Mr Lee might be willing to gladly pass the limelight to his fellow tycoons. The man whose group is now the subject of one of Hong Kong's most complicated financial investigations has had a relatively comfortable journey to the highest echelons of the corporate business community. He was born in Kuala Lumpur in 1939 and graduated from Sydney University with a degree in engineering. A profile published by Asian Finance says Mr Lee worked for a few years for oil companies before striking it rich as chief executive of a Malaysian company, LYL, developing rubber plantations into housing estates to satisfy the demand of a rapidly expanding Malaysian middle-class. While still relatively young, Mr Lee decided to change his professional direction, selling everything and putting tens of millions of dollars into US Treasury bonds. At that stage, Mr Lee seriously contemplated early retirement. However, he returned to the business world to help a friend who was running an Australian parking station company. A British passport holder, Mr Lee longed to educate his children in Australia - and plunged back into the business world in 1983. In May 1984, he bought a stake in Sunshine Australia. In 1986 Mr Lee took control of Wormald International and later Hastings Deering Finance and Investment, the provider of credit to Asia's largest dealer in Caterpillar heavy equipment. But Mr Lee's Australian interests were soon to fade as he shifted his attention to the more promising opportunities offered in Hong Kong. He launched his Hong Kong empire with the Allied Group in 1986. In Australia, regulators were critical of Mr Lee's business dealings, although high-profile investigations in 1986 and 1987 by Australia's National Companies and Securities Commission found no violations of the law.