Over time, he returned to the family business in his native Indonesia, then in 1980, at the age of 32, he left for Singapore, where he made his fortune in mergers and acquisitions.
His business style was to bypass red tape and formalities, making quick deals based on personal relationships – he closed the deal to buy the Plaza of Nations land from Sir Li in five minutes, he said. he once told the South China Morning Post. Mr. Hui, on the other hand, was an American college-educated engineer who had become one of Canada’s most sophisticated developers.
Known for his spiky black hair, skateboarding in his suit, and kitesurfing the beaches of Vancouver, he once told the National Post that he loves “all things fast and fun.”
The partnership quickly deteriorated. The two sides fell out over the capital gains tax liabilities of a site that had appreciated by C$460 million in two decades. They could not agree on how to share the costs of major concessions to be made to the City of Vancouver in exchange for favorable zoning rules to maximize the project’s profitability.
In late 2015, Mr Oei filed two lawsuits in Singapore against Concord Pacific, alleging the promoter failed to make payments in breach of their agreement.
Concord Pacific, in turn, filed suit in October 2015 in Canada, accusing Mr. Oei and his company of violating the pact. The two-page pact signed by Mr. Oei and Mr. Hui read: “This agreement is binding.”
Nevertheless, in July 2019, British Columbia Supreme Court Justice Peter Voith sided with Mr. Oei, concluding that he was not binding because the document lacked essential conditions to a properly formed contract.
He also scathingly described a Concord vice-president and key negotiator for Mr. Hui as “dishonest” in his trial testimony. However, the nearly 50-day trial and thousands of pages of testimony and evidence – including from a Deutsche Bank executive – showed Mr Oei was not always outspoken.
The 2019 ruling acknowledged that when Mr. Oei tried to secure funding for the partnership with Deutsche Bank, he asked the lender to conceal details of the loan structure from Mr. Hui.
Concord argued that Mr. Oei did so in order to put in place a structure that would give Mr. Oei ultimate control and hold Mr. Hui personally accountable at all times if things went wrong. Deutsche Bank refused to follow suit, saying it could not agree to withhold such disclosures, Hui was reluctant to place personal guarantees, and the partnership fell through. Deutsche Bank spokespersons did not immediately respond to a request for comment.
It also emerged that Mr Oei, after signing the deal with Mr Hui, proceeded to negotiate a deal with the Aquilini family valuing the Plaza of Nations land at C$450 million. Mr. Oei maintained that it was not an offense and that he was candid about the simultaneous exploration of a backup partner.
Other clouds linger over the property. Mr. Oei and his associated companies face a separate claim filed in 2019 by a small Vancouver developer, Lin Li, who says he entered into an agreement to develop the land in 2017. Mr. Lin alleges that Mr. Oei promised to arranged a bank loan but deliberately caused the lender to reject the request in order to force him out of the transaction. The proposed lender would turn out to be, again, Deutsche Bank, according to Mr Oei’s response to the complaint.
Mr. Oei denies the allegation or any wrongdoing. A trial is expected to start in January next year.
Meanwhile, a gated casino, concrete grounds and 57 solitary masts occupy the site of the Plaza of Nations – an eerily desolate and unsightly blot interrupting the stretch of gleaming glass towers, luxury yachts and emerald parks that line Vancouver’s scenic waterfront. Mr. Oei said in his statement on Tuesday that the project was in the final stages of permitting.
It is unclear who could then show up, if any, to join Mr. Oei in building it. As Westbank’s Mr Gillespie, one of the main contenders initially ignored by Mr Oei, said in a 2018 affidavit: “This is a highly competitive industry with a narrow range of competitors.”
And so awaits the centerpiece of the Expo boom that sparked Vancouver’s transformation into a glittering cosmopolis in three decades – a lingering remnant of its quiet, small-town past before the world’s moguls go down.