Kuok first gained a foothold in Burma in the 1990s when he partnered with Steven Law – who owns the country’s largest conglomerate and is the son of the late Lo Hsing Han a notorious drug lord nicknamed the ‘godfather of heroin’.
A leaked State Department cable dubbed Law ‘the regime’s top crony’ and in 2010 the Treasury Department imposed sanctions against both father and son.
Together with Law – Kuok built what is now the Sule Shangri-La hotel in Rangoon – a popular destination for the Burmese and foreign elite.
In recent years Kuok has teamed up with a far more respectable business partner to expand his chain of luxury hotels and resorts throughout Asia: the International Finance Corporation.
A branch of the World Bank the IFC finances the private sector in developing countries via loans and direct investments to help meet the bank’s goals of ending extreme poverty and ‘boosting shared prosperity’.
In 2009 the IFC invested $50 million in the construction of a 142-villa Shangri-La resort in the Maldives.
In 2012 it sank another $50 million into Kuok’s new five-star hotel in Ulaanbaatar Mongolia.
And in 2014 the IFC signed off on an $80 million investment in Kuok’s Burma properties that backed the construction of the luxury apartment complex and a makeover at the Rangoon hotel he built with Law.
It was the IFC’s largest investment in Burma to date.