HONG KONG -- Four years ago, George Tan was one of Hong Kong's most glamorous success stories.
As chairman of the colony's highest flying property company, Carrian Investments Ltd., his empire included insurance, shipping, hotels and restaurants in the United States, Asia and Australia.
He seemed to control unlimited funds as he put together spectacular back-to-back property deals. His remarkable success in only a few years astounded business circles and helped the local stock market indicator reach its highest level in more than a decade.
But on Monday, Tan is scheduled to go on trial with five associates charged with fraud involving billions of dollars in a case that has been linked to the murder of a Malaysian banker and the suicide of a prominent Hong Kong attorney.
His conglomerate collapsed in 1983 when real estate values plunged in Hong Kong and the Carrian group was unable to pay debts of some $1.5 billion to some 40 American, Asian and European banks.
Tan and his chief associate, Bentley Ho, were arrested that year and charged with conspiracy to defraud shareholders and creditors by misrepresenting Carrian's actual worth.
It was alleged they used the chain of some 200 interlocking companies to conceal Carrian's shaky financial position and obtain huge bank loans. Citibank, Chase Manhattan and the Hong Kong and Shanghai Banking Corp., among others, were reported to have braced for losses.
But none was hurt as badly as the Malaysia's Bank Bumiputra, that country's top bank, which loaned some $600 million to Carrian.
Malaysian Prime Minister Mahatir Mohammed, at the time of Tan's arrest, described the bank's involvement with Carrian as a 'heinous crime.'
The saga took a sinister twist when a Bank Bumiputra official, Jalil Ibrahim, was found strangled in a Hong Kong banana grove in July 1983 after he allegedly attempted to block a loan to Carrian.
A Malaysian Chinese businessman, Mak Foon Than, was convicted of the slaying and sentenced to life imprisonment. During his trial, Mak accused Tan of ordering the killing, a charge Tan's attorneys denied.
Jalil's murder was only the first scandal linked to Carrian.
In April 1984, John Wimbush, a Carrian legal adviser and a partner in one of Hong Kong's most prestigous law firms, was found dead in the swimming pool of his Hong Kong home with a manhole cover tied to his neck.
His death was officially ruled a suicide but the legal decision did not end the controversy.
Wimbush, a former president of the Hong Kong Law Society, was scheduled to be interviewed by police in connection with the sale by Carrian of Gammon House, a Hong Kong skyscraper later renamed the Bank of America Tower.
Tan, 51, a British-trained engineer, arrived in Hong Kong in 1972 from Singapore, where he was declared bankrupt. The Singapore government later revoked his passport.
In Hong Kong, he began buying cheap real estate during the mid-1970s property slump, and in 1979 bought a controlling stake in the Mai Hon property company, whichhe renamed Carrian.
He caught the attention of the business world when, a year later, he bought Gammon House, which he sold nine months later at a $127 million profit. As his conglomerate mushroomed, Carrian assets grew to include a fast food chain, bus and taxi companies, as well as travel and shipping ventures.
In the United States, Carrian's assets included a 810-acre development in Orlando, Fla., a $350 million investment in an Oakland, California city center project and a minority ownership of the Oakland Hyatt hotel.
Few questioned where his capital came from. Tan said he was backed by family assets.
On trial Monday, along with Tan and Ho, are two of their business associates, brothers Rogerio and Stephen Lam, and two accountants, David Begg and Anthony Lo. All six have pleaded not guilty.
The trial is expected to last nine months. Tan faces seven years in jail if convicted.
Tan and Ho, together with another Carrian executive, Carrie Woo, were arrested in December on separate charges of fraud and bribery in connection with Bank Bumiputra. That trial has been delayed until January 1987.
Two former officers of the bank, Lorrain Osman and Mohammad Hashim, were accused of granting improper loans at the time Tan and Ho were charged with fraud.
Prosecutors also allege Tan and his colleagues bribed Osman and Hashim in hopes of winning favors from the bank.