KUALA LUMPUR, March 29 ― Political sensitivities have forced state-owned Johor Corp (JCorp) to deny claims that Iskandar Waterfront Holdings Sdn Bhd chief Tan Sri Lim Kang Hoo owns the recently-privatised KFC Holdings Bhd and QSR Brands Bhd.
Various Malay groups have protested potential sale or change of shareholders for the lucrative fast food franchise holders, seen as a symbol of their economic clout that they fear will be sold to non-Malay interests
“Those are just rumours,” JCorp chief executive Datuk Kamaruzzaman Abu Kassim was quoted as saying in The Star today.
He was quashing allegations by several bloggers that Lim, who is embarking on an ambitious initial public offering (IPO) of his waterfront assets in Johor slated for this year, had via a convoluted shareholding structure wrested control of the prized fast-food companies.
Lim is seen as close to the Johor authorities and has been the target of many rumours due to his business success in the now-booming southern economic corridor.
Some local blogs had speculated that the RM5 billion takeover of KFCH and QSR last year by a consortium comprising JCorp, private equity firm CVC Capital Partners and the Employees Provident Fund was aimed at putting them in the hands of Lim, even superimposing an image of the construction and property tycoon’s face on KFC icon Colonel Sanders.
The issue could be politically explosive for the ruling Barisan Nasional (BN) government in Johor as their opponents Pakatan Rakyat (PR) are making a massive push for the southern state.
Opposition politicians have had a field day with development issues in Johor, including rising property prices and living costs as well as allegations of cronyism in the birthplace of Umno.
Analysts say any talk of the state government selling out business interests to non-Malays will have an adverse effect on their chances in the largely Malay state.
BN is already facing a backlash from non-Malay voters who cast their ballots in favour of the opposition in Election 2008 and are likely to do so in this year’s election expected within a month.