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Socialist detainee turned millionaire Tan Kai Hee dies aged 85

Former ISA detainee turned multi-millionaire Tan Kai Hee passed away last night aged 85.

Tan who was a young Socialist Front leader in the 1960s was detained under the ISA for eight years. After he came out he formed Hai-O Enterprise Bhd and became a multi-millionaire who gave back to the community in many ways.

His former Socialist Front comrade Syed Husin Ali said he was saddened by the loss.

"His passing is a great loss to the multi-racial Malaysian community and to me personally.

"I have known Kai Hee since 1960, introduced by his best friend, Dr MK Rajakumar. I know him as a figure who has long been involved in progressive politics to fight for national unity and defend the poor and oppressed.

"After retiring from political parties he ventured into business. He was a well-known philanthropist and contributed much to the education and welfare of the people," said Syed Husin.

He added that Tan was a close friend of the late national laurate Usman Awang.

"He has built the Usman Awang Foundation (YUA) and donated money for YUA activities.

"Tan Kai Hee's contribution to the country is enormous. He deserves to be highly praised and will long be remembered with reverence."

Before he became a successful entrepreneur, Tan was deputy secretary-general of the Labour Party of Malaya and a member of the Malayan Peoples’ Socialist Front in the 1960s.

He has reportedly said that it was the hardship that he endured while growing up that was responsible for his leftist leanings as young Tan worked in a rubber estate, pineapple canning factory, a bicycle shop and night markets.

After his detention under ISA, he struggled to get a job and started trading Chinese herbs and medicines before slowly building it into a multi-million ringgit enterprise.

Poet and former journalist Raja Ahmad Aminullah also lauded Tan as a uniquely open-hearted and generous spirit.

"He set up a trust fund where the profits of his business (if I am not mistaken around RM100 million ) are placed, to be distributed as charity or philanthropic works.

Raja Ahmad said that Tan announced that only a small part of the foundation's dividend is allocated for his children because he believes he has given them all the resources they need to make their own fortune rather than to inherit his.

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