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Lebanese 'billionaire' in KL charity row

From The Electric New Paper of January 11, 2006

HE claims to be the third richest man in the world. But Elie Youssef Najm, who says he's worth US$46 billion (SGD75b), is also a man of contradictions.
He lives in a modest 3-room condominium in Kuala Lumpur.
There is no Italian furniture, no expensive paintings and no plasma TV.
He has a taste for expensive chocolates, but strewn on his kitchen floor were empty styrofoam food containers.
Although there are two refrigerators and a microwave oven, his kitchen looks sparse and seldom used.
'I choose to live like this. But I am going to buy a mini palace soon,' the eccentric 45-year-old Lebanese told the Star newspaper.
He married Madam Farinnie Mohd Farid six months ago in an office, instead of a fancy hotel, splurging thousands of ringgit on flowers.
He made news for pledging a whopping RM1.07b (SGD450m) to Malaysia's National Cancer Council (Makna).
A day after his announcement, it has now emerged that he faces police charges for fraud.
Like a king, he held court for three hours in a press conference in his condo yesterday, as his 19-year-old Malaysian wife stood nearby.
Two bodyguards dressed in suits and armed with a pistol were present.
Another 15 uniformed security guards stood outside his home.
He insists he's staying in a modest condo due to safety reasons, as he had been kidnapped twice. 'Why would I want to get kidnapped again?' he asked.
He claimed there were three attempts to kill him previously.
That's why reporters had to present their identity cards to his security personnel. The photographer could only snap pictures whenever Elie wanted his photo taken.
Elie has a penchant for electronic gadgets - one room was filled with computers and communications equipment.
He also carries three handphones, and has an electronic keyboard he plays regularly.
He said he owned various properties, including bungalows and four penthouses in Malaysia.
He showed bank statements which showed account balances running into hundreds of millions in US dollars, sales documents of him buying seven luxury cars, and various business contracts totalling about US$13b.
He was asked to respond to allegations that he was charged with cheating on 30 Sep last year.
'I am hurt and angry at all these allegations,' he said. Asked to show his Mercedes Benz, which was featured in a DVD which he showed to the reporters, Elie said he did not own it anymore but he would be buying seven Volvos.
However, earlier in the day, he was seen taking a taxi to the Lebanese embassy in KL.
The cabby told China Press that he had ferried Elie around for the past four days, but he hasn't been paid a cent yet.
Datuk Mohammad Farid Ariffin, president of Makna, said he hasn't received the billion-ringgit donation yet.
He told Guang Ming Daily: 'I can't ask my donors if they really have the money, or see their bank accounts.'


Malaysia offered $275mn by tainted Lebanese tycoon

From Gulf Times of Tuesday, 10 January, 2006

KUALA LUMPUR: Malaysian officials were scratching their heads yesterday over a $275mn charity pledge from a Lebanese businessman whose credibility has been questioned in the media.
The massive "donation" to the National Cancer Council from Malaysia-based businessman Elie Youssef Najem made front-page news over the weekend after a press conference held by delighted charity officials.
But the headlines were replaced yesterday with a series of complaints from people who said he had cheated them out of their wages and out of large sums owed for everything from flowers to furniture. Reports said that charges for criminal breach of trust had been lodged with police against Najem, who claims to be worth $46bn. Malaysia's health minister Chua Soi Lek also cast doubt on the credibility of the businessman who reportedly lives in a modest apartment in Kuala Lumpur.
"I find it hard for it to be true because it's a huge amount," Chua was quoted as saying in the New Straits Times. The newspaper said a number of former workers and contractors had complained about Najem.
"I had my doubts when he claimed to be a lord in Canada and a prince in Lebanon," said Farizatul Akma, who quit work after one day after seeing the businessman's cheques bouncing.
"We know who this individual is and he has been investigated previously for cheating and alleged criminal breach of trust," city commercial crimes chief Assistant Commissioner Aris Ramli told the newspaper. Najem, 45, could not be reached for comment but has insisted he is a bone fide businessman.
"I come from a very important family in the Middle East and my donations to the National Cancer Council involve people high up in Malaysian society," he was quoted in the Star daily yesterday. - AFP

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