Last week Richard Chandler, of Matangi, near Hamilton, took another giant bite at a troubled foreign group, following a strategy that has placed him among the 300 or so richest people on the planet.

Ignoring balance sheets dripping red and threats of unrelenting opposition from environmentalists, Green politicians, vineyards, locals and assorted others, Chandler bought a majority shareholding in Tasmanian timber company Gunns.

More, he pledged to complete a pulp mill that has plagued state and federal politics, sparked a national counter-attack against the project's financial backers, and remains one of the most divisive issues on the island.

But that's life for Chandler. From Russia to South Korea to Canada, the Richard Chandler Corporation has bounded in as others fled, whacking regulators into line and making huge profits. Gunns, he believes, will be another in the long line of successes.


Chandler, now resident in Singapore, has been one of the silent movers and shakers, rarely speaking to the media while amassing a fortune estimated at about $4 billion from daring investments in new and frequently shaky markets.

In his first - and certainly most revealing - interview, he told Institutional Investor in 2004 that his decisions were motivated by optimism, not fear. Still then in partnership with his brother, Christopher, he told the magazine: "We are great believers in the idea of having audacious goals, breaking out and doing something out of the ordinary."

The Investor's international editor, Tom Buerke, described the Chandler brothers as possibly "the world's most important - if least understood - activists", responsible in no small way for the opening of the world's emerging markets.

Within a decade, Buerke wrote, they turned a US$10 million family fortune into a US$5 billion fund by making bold bets in risky markets, becoming among the first portfolio investors in Brazil and the Czech Republic in the early 1990s and waging landmark corporate governance battles in Russia and South Korea.

The brothers went their separate ways in 2007, Christopher forming Legatum and Richard Orient Global, now renamed Richard Chandler Corporation.

Last year Chandler published a paper calling for integrity, transparency and accountability among corporate chiefs and expounded his strategy of removing impediments to raising capital by targeting "unethical managements".

"The Richard Chandler Corporation believes it has a responsibility to speak the truth, stand up for principles and confront injustice where we encounter it," the paper said.

"We will act in cases where management's activities are egregious enough that they hurt our economic interests in the company and regulators are either unable or unwilling to intervene."


But while promoting ethics, he told Institutional Investor that corporate governance crusades were a by-product, not a driver, of strategy.

"We do have altruistic motives ... But we don't want to be defined by our corporate governance battles. We are value investors with a sense of responsibility, not activists."

Even so, he fought a bitter battle in South Korea, where Sovereign had bought 14.8 per cent of oil refiner and telco SK. Its chief executive, Chey Tae-Won, and nine executives were convicted of a US$1.2 billion fraud, but Chey was later released on bail and returned to the business despite an intensive campaign by Sovereign.

Shortly afterwards Sovereign sold out with a five-fold profit, pushing the Chandler brothers ahead of the Todd family to top the National Business Review's 2005 Rich List.

Elsewhere, Sovereign defied trends and invested in Japan's deeply troubled banking sector and emerged triumphant, moved into the Indian financial services industry, and, four years ago, returned to recession-plagued Russia to snap up bargains that included Sberbank, the biggest in eastern Europe.

In Canada, Chandler subsidiary Mandolin Fund last year bought itself both opportunity and headaches, acquiring a majority 19.5 per cent holding in Chinese plantation group Sino-Forest, whose share price collapsed on allegations of large-scale fraud, lawsuits and the Ontario Securities Commission's decision to refer the case to federal police.

And now Chandler is in Tasmania, where Gunns is struggling under financial pain and opposition to a pulp mill approved outside planning processes by former Premier Paul Lennon after an eight-year battle. This continues despite the go-ahead.

While welcomed by both the Labor Government and conservative Opposition, Chandler's arrival has been condemned by a coalition of opponents.

State Greens forestry spokesman Kim Booth said that far from saving the mill, the Chandler Corporation "has effectively become the new undertaker for Gunns".

Chandler remains undaunted. Senior adviser Alan Kelly said Chandler Corporation would create 3000 jobs, generate bio-energy, drive exports and hand A$1 billion ($1.2 billion) in revenue to state and federal governments.

"We see its future as building a foundation for sustainable development and economic growth, which will provide a future for the Tasmanian forestry industry."