KUALA LUMPUR, Malaysia - Lim Goh Tong, who turned a forested hilltop into a thriving casino-resort, died yesterday, leaving a diverse business empire worth $22 billion. He was 90.
Prime Minister Abdullah Ahmad Badawi mourned Mr. Lim's death, describing him as a hard-working entrepreneur who had contributed to the country's economic development.
"He is also a well-known philanthropist," Abdullah said. "I believe his death is a loss not only to the nation, but also to the business and entrepreneurial community in the country."
Mr. Lim, a migrant from China, battled against the odds to build Genting Highlands, a casino-hotel that opened in 1971 and grew into a Las Vegas-style resort. It is the country's only casino and includes five hotels and a theme park.
Forbes magazine listed Mr. Lim among the world's top 250 billionaires in 2006 and as the third-richest person in Malaysia, with a personal net worth of $4.3 billion.
Born in Anxi in Fujian Province, Mr. Lim was the fifth child among seven siblings who migrated to Malaya, as Malaysia was then known, in 1937 at the age of 19 with only a suitcase and $175 in his pocket.
He made his first fortune by trading in second-hand heavy machinery in the 1940s after the end of the Japanese occupation, and later ventured into mining.
While working on a hydroelectric power project in 1964 in Cameron Highlands, a popular hill resort patronized mostly by British colonials at the time, Mr. Lim dreamt of building a similar hill resort closer to the country's biggest city, Kuala Lumpur, as a getaway for local residents.
He found the remote, 5,900-foot mountain Ulu Kali. just about an hour's drive from Kuala Lumpur. In 1965, he set up the Genting Group, transforming the dense jungle into one of Malaysia's top holiday destinations. It attracted 18.5 million visitors in 2006.
The Genting Group has since diversified into plantations, properties, paper manufacturing, power generation, oil, and gas. The group comprises five listed companies with a combined total market capitalization of more than $22 billion, according to its website.
Genting has also developed resorts and casinos in Australia and the Philippines.