Wong Ah Fook mansion owner breaks silence

JOHOR BARU - The owner of the Wong Ah Fook mansion here has broken his silence over the demolition of the 150-year-old heritage building.

The owner, a local residing in Singapore, refused to be named.

He issued a statement through his law firm, Lim Soh & Goonting Advocates & Solicitors, stating that the mansion was a private property.

"In April, the owner and its tenants had hired an engineering firm to conduct an inspection on the mansion.

"They found structural defects and concluded that the building was unfit for occupation.

"Members of the public had entered the building without consent on many occasions, giving rise to issues of public safety.

"Drug addicts had also been seen entering the mansion.

"Because of the potential risks, the mansion was demolished last Wednesday.

"The demolition works started at 3pm and continued until midnight," the statement said.

The lawyer, who read out the statement, insisted that he not to be named.

The owner was not present during the press conference, held at the law firm at Public Bank Tower here.

The owner, however, expressed his regret that public sentiment was not considered before the mansion was demolished.

It was learnt that the 0.44ha of land, where the mansion was situated, was worth about RM30 million (S$12 million).

Following the demolition, Johor Baru member of parliament Tan Sri Shahrir Abdul Samad said the local council would teach the owner a lesson for acting like "a thief in the night" for having the demolition carried out in the middle of the night.

He said he would protest any proposed development on the land, adding that he had met Menteri Besar Datuk Seri Mohamed Khaled Nordin.

Wong Ah Fook, who had lived at the mansion, was a well-known philanthropist and contractor.

The state capital's main thoroughfare is named after Wong, who started out as a carpenter and rose to become the government's chief contractor.

Wong, who was born in 1837 in Canton, died in 1918 at the age of 81 at his home in Kampong Java Road in Singapore.

He had close ties to the then state ruler Sultan Abu Bakar.

Wong built some of the most recognisable heritage buildings in Johor, including Istana Besar, Balai Zaharah, which was the residence of first menteri besar Datuk Jaafar Mohamed, in Bukit Senyum, and Johor Baru Prison in Jalan Ayer Molek.