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Who Ting Pek Khiing

Life had never been so good for Ting Pek Khiing as when he hooked up with Dr. M. But given the mess he's in now, he may long for a more distant time. Ting bounced around the Sarawak hinterland the better part of his business career, a construction subcontractor picking up low-margin building jobs in the outback of Borneo, as well as ducking a brush or two with personal bankruptcy. A guy's got to make a buck - and in Ting's case, more than a buck for a wife who would settle for no less. Ting muscled his way into business notoriety with ass-kicking bravado and record-breaking construction exploits. Sarawak Chief Minister Abdul Taib Mahmud, who rules the state as if it were his personal fiefdom, finally noticed the energetic Fuzhou. And from there, Ting made the leap onto Dr. M's radar screen. The 53-year-old Ting is the sort of rough-and-ready entrepreneur who appeals to Dr. M's instincts. "Can do" is all Mahathir wants to hear from his little corporate rascals whenever he conjures up an audacious project idea. And can do just happen to be among the favorite words in Ting's limited English vocabulary.

Dazzling Taib with the speed of his state-backed construction projects, Ting latched onto several coveted timber concessions. (It helped that Ting brought on the chief minister's sons as minority shareholders.)

The concessions and his subsequently expanded milling operations added key components to Ting's speed-driven building process. The components of his wooden chalets now were finished at his plant and assembled at the construction site on top of already laid foundations. They were a cinch, these pre-fab jungle resorts. And they were cheap. Who cared if they crumbled after a few monsoon seasons? Not Ting Pek "Speed" Khiing.

It was speed that Dr. M needed; he was in a pinch. Mahathir had invited the high and mighty of the aerospace industry to kick off his inaugural international air show on Langkawi. But at the rate his convention resort was being built, his guests would be sleeping on the beach under mosquito netting. Ting, with a recommendation from Taib, slapped the resort together in about three months, saving Dr. M from certain embarrassment. That was enough to pave the way for Ting to secure what the press billed as the "deal of the century."

The deal, of course, was the RM15 billion Bakun hydroelectric dam and transmission project, which Ting snatched away from competitors with the help of Dr. M and Daim. Little did they mind that Ting, the prefab wizard, knew nothing about building dams and laying nearly 2,000 kilometers of land and sea transmission cables. Ting could build anything, as far as they were concerned.

Perhaps. But Ting hadn't reckoned on a stroke, a legal tussle with main contractor Asea Brown Boveri and, worst of all, the onslaught of the financial crisis. Dr. M was forced to shelve Bakun, maybe permanently, leaving Ting's empire choking in debt. Ting only has his prefab and logging operations to fall back on. But in a recession, who needs the stuff?

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