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‘Empire’ An Apt Label For Demo Donor Behind Indonesian Couple’s $425,000 Gift Is Ambitious Lippo Group

THURSDAY, OCT. 24, 1996

The Lippo Group is unknown to most Americans, except for its links to a $425,000 campaign contribution to the Democratic Party. But the Jakarta-based conglomerate is a fast-rising power in Asia, financing skyscrapers, golf resorts and cable television stations.

In the United States, it has established partnerships with one of the nation’s biggest banks, First Union Corp., Wal-Mart Corp. and even religious leader Pat Robertson.

“These guys are empire builders,” said Stephen Chipman, a partner with the accounting firm Grant Thonton, who recently returned from three years in Hong Kong. “Everywhere I went in Asia, I bumped into the Lippo Group.”

Lippo became a hot topic in political circles after revelations that an Indonesian couple with links to the company made a $425,000 contribution to the Democratic National Committee. GOP presidential nominee Bob Dole has suggested the contribution might be in exchange for special favors from the Clinton administration.

A review of Lippo corporate filings with the Securities and Exchange Commission and interviews back the image of an “empire.”

The privately held Lippo Ltd., the Hong Kong-based finance and real estate subsidiary of the Lippo Group, has $3.6 billion in assets, with 143 major subsidiaries in 11 countries stretching from Hong Kong and China to the British Virgin Islands to Ireland.

Lippo Bank, publicly held and based in Jakarta, had $3.3 billion in assets at the end of 1995, with more than 260 branches in Indonesia, as well as offices in Australia, Vietnam and the United States, where it has a branch in Los Angeles.

One of Lippo’s specialties is property development and banking. The company filled a void in the Hong Kong property markets left by Japanese banks and investment firms following the decline of the Tokyo stock market in the early 1990s. The company’s real estate arm, Lippo Land Development, is booming, reporting a 227.6 percent return for the six months ending June 26, according to The Wall Street Journal.

What’s fueling that growth? Lippo is well-positioned in the Hong Kong and southern China commercial real estate markets and in the financing of infrastructure projects.

And they’re poised to cash in on southern China’s future. According to SEC documents, Lippo Ltd. has interests in 16 major developments now under way in Hong Kong and China that would cover 12.7 million square feet - more than five Empire State Buildings.

Lippo cut a major media deal last December by joining Pat Robertson’s International Family Entertainment Inc. and a Malaysian real estate concern to invest in China Entertainment Television Broadcast Ltd. of Hong Kong. The cable channel is expected to reach 1.25 billion Mandarin-speaking Chinese.

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