NagaCorp Founder Chen Lip Keong Dies, Son Succeeds As CEO

December 11, 2023
Malaysian billionaire Chen Lip Keong, founder and “senior CEO” of Phnom Penh casino monopoly holder NagaCorp, has died at the age of 75, with his top CEO post passing to son Chen Yiy Fon.

Malaysian billionaire Chen Lip Keong, founder and “senior CEO” of Phnom Penh casino monopoly holder NagaCorp, has died at the age of 75, with his top CEO post passing to son Chen Yiy Fon.

Chen Lip Keong died on Friday (December 8) “due to illness”, NagaCorp said in a filing to the Hong Kong Stock Exchange early Monday (December 11), without elaborating on the illness or his location.

Chen’s death was first reported by Malaysia’s Chinese-language Nanyang Siang Pau (Nanyang Business Daily) on Sunday, citing unnamed sources. The report said Chen was in the United States when he died.

NagaCorp’s operations in Cambodia started in 1995 on a moored barge on the Bassac River, which flows out of the Mekong River in Phnom Penh, before relocating to its current prime location in 2003 on the back of a lease until 2065 and a 200km-radius monopoly until 2045.

Chen then grew the operation to become a dual casino and one of the globe's top ten casino operations by EBITDA, according to Vixio GamblingCompliance estimates.

Ranked seventh on Forbes’ list of wealthiest Malaysians in mid-2023, Chen ceded most day-to-day operations of the company to his children in 2022 and all but disappeared from the public eye as anecdotal reports mounted that he was unwell.

Chen Yiy Fon has since acted as operations CEO, along with Chen Cherchi as CEO of finance and Chen Yiy Hwuan as CEO of hotels. A fourth son, Chen Yepern, is managing director of the “CEO Cabinet” and leads environmental, social and corporate governance matters, according to a company filing in April that year.

A gambling consultant with knowledge of the Cambodian market said the company may come under pressure now that the intimate relationship between Chen Lip Keong and former long-time Prime Minister Hun Sen is at an end.

With Chen deceased and strongman Hun Sen ceding the prime ministership and much of his day-to-day power to his son Hun Manet, IGamiX managing partner Ben Lee said the company may come under commercial and political pressure.

“With the nexus between NagaCorp and the Cambodian government now totally severed, it would be interesting to see if they retain their gaming monopoly, and when the local tycoons take control,” Lee told Vixio.

Asked if the relationship between Chen’s sons and the government was so flimsy as to imperil the company’s standing, Lee said: “I believe it’s extremely weak.

“Dr. Chen kept the relationship between himself and the former prime minister all to himself,” he said. “There is very little [of substance] between the successors” and the government, he added.

The transfer of power at NagaCorp, the first casino company to list in Hong Kong, has appeared stable and operations have continued smoothly despite pandemic impacts, including a temporary shutdown and Chinese government pressure on its nationals who gamble overseas.

A festering labour dispute after the sacking of 1,300 employees, which saw Chen Yiy Hwuan briefly involved in a street melee, has also failed to disrupt operations.

However, investors punished the stock on Monday, sending shares down by as much as 13.5 percent before rising to HK$3.00 ($0.38) at 2:40pm, or down 8 percent.

Today’s fall exacerbates wider rumblings over the company’s finances and extends the stock’s poor fortunes this year. It has lost a quarter of its value in three weeks and more than half of its value since January, following a three-month revival.

In June, the company extended by four years the completion date of its $4bn expansion of NagaWorld, including a third casino and multiple hotel towers. Fiscal unease spread in the same month when the Moody’s rating service downgraded its NagaCorp rating and outlook.

After transferring the company’s controlling stake to a trust with his five sons as co-directors in July, Chen Lip Keong performed a last major intervention in October by personally lending the company up to $80m to support payment of senior notes that mature in July 2024.

NagaCorp shares reached an all-time high of HK$14.40 in November 2019, just before the onset of the coronavirus pandemic.

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