Is Erick Thohir a billionaire? A look at what we know about his finances and his ownership of D.C. United

Pier Marco Tacca

With so much confusion about Erick Thohir and his portfolio of teams, we decided to wade into waters of corporate ownership and holding companies to see what we could find.

Since he became D.C. United’s primary investor-operator in the summer of 2012, there he have plenty of claims made about Erick Thohir, his money, and his ownership of various sports teams. With all of his primary investments outside of the United States, finding information about them has been difficult; the organizations named in this article may have changed ownership or purpose at any time. And with a stadium deal possibly coming before the DC Council this week, questions of Erick Thohir’s finances will abound. But let us start with what we do know, and try to steer clear of guesswork and rumor.

Thohir’s primary business interests are in the media industry, with an article already calling him one of Indonesia’s new media magnates. His first company seems to be Mahaka Media, of which he is a co-founder and chairman. It is a publicly traded company that was founded in 1992. In 2008, Independent News and Media bought a 20% stake of Mahaka Media for 4.8 million Euros, which gives you a sense of how much the company was worth then. This deal left Thohir with 52% of the shares of the company; however, it seems that Thohir has bought some of those shares back, as most investment websites list his Beyond Media holding company with a bit over 60% of the shares of Mahaka. Mahaka is the group that brought the LA Galaxy on their Indonesian tour in 2011, which in turn first turned Thohir’s eye towards Major League Soccer.

Thohir runs his part of Mahaka Media through Beyond Media, another holding company of which he owns either all or very close to all. Through this company, he also owns 75% of Indonesian Live Entertainment, also known as Elive, which provides ticketing and promotion for concerts across the country.

Thohir is also the President of Visi Media, which is also known as the Viva Group. This group was founded by another powerful Indonesian family, the Bakries. Aburizal Bakrie, the patriarch of the family and a current candidate for President of Indonesia, is the primary owner of the Bakrie Group and one of the 30 richest men in Indonesia. Visi Media was founded by Aburizal’s son Anindya Bakrie, who is close in age to Thohir and the two are at the very least business partners in a number of ventures; an interview with the two men in The Jakarta Globe says that they have been close family friends for years. Visi Media was valued at over $400 million in 2011, based on a stock offering.

Other sports teams for which Thohir is at least part of the ownership group include the Persib Bandung, the other of the two Indonesian teams that D.C. United played against in their recent tour of the country; and the Indonesia Warriors, a basketball team of which he is president.

Were the companies that are publicly in his name his only investments, it would not seem as though Thohir would have enough money to buy D.C. United, let alone Inter Milan. However, you then reach TriNugraha Thohir, the Thohir family’s investment and holding company founded by Thohir’s father, Teddy, and also run with Thohir’s brother, Garibaldi. Most sources are unclear about Erick Thohir’s level of involvement with TNT, but on D.C. United’s own website it used to say that he “operates, alongside his family, TriNugraha Thohir.” The currently live website only mentions Mahaka Media in addition to his ownership of Inter Milan and United.

Teddy Thohir was initially a high ranking executive in Union Carbide’s Indonesian office; after leaving them, he became one of the founders of Astra International, the biggest automotive company in Indonesia.

Garibaldi Thohir is the member of the family with the most money to his name, at least publicly, and the current driving force behind TriNugraha Thohir. He was on the Forbes list of world billionaires in 2012, and in 2013 was estimated to have a net worth of $960 million. Garibaldi is involved in the energy sector, running Adaro Energy, a coal company, as well as Surya Esa Perkasa, a liquified petroleum gas company. Part of Garibaldi’s stake in these two companies, as well as part of Erick’s stake in Mahaka Media, is owned through TNT, along with pieces of many other companies. The value of the assets controlled by TNT, and even what all of those assets are, is in dispute; one newspaper article from Indonesia in 2011 suggested that the company could be valued at over $2 billion.

Thohir’s first sports investment in the United States was when he joined the ownership group of the Philadelphia 76ers in October 2011. After he bought in, his friend and business partner Handy Soetdejo also became a part-owner of the 76ers. Sometime between July and August of 2013, both Thohir and his Soetdejo both sold their stakes in the basketball team.

The news never gathered wide attention, and the team has ignored all of my questions to them about the specific timing. The timing of the sale seems signficant, however, because that is the same time frame in which Massimo Moratti was negotiating a deal to sell a 70% stake in Inter Milan to Thohir and his partners. Those partners turned out to be Handy Soetdejo and Rosan Roeslani.

Inter was purchased by International Sports Capital, a company registered in Hong Kong. Supposedly, Thohir owns 51% of the company, while Roeslani and Soetdejo each own 24.5%. Rosan Roeslani is a venture capitalist and former investor in a mining company; he is supposed to pay that company back $173 million dollars, without admitting any liability, for spending that had “no clear business purpose.” A new article about Roeslani and his levels of involvement - if any - just recently came out, and goes into these issues in a far greater depth than I can here. However, he is no longer listed anywhere on Inter Milan’s website.

And remember Anindya Bakrie? He, through the Bakrie Group, is rumored to be in talks with Thohir to buy into Inter Milan, bringing the full resources of two of the richest families in Indonesia to bear on the club. Specifically, rumors out of Italy in February suggested that, due to Roeslani’s debts, he would be bought out by either Thohir or the Bakries. That same month, Grant Ferguson replaced Roeslani on the Board of Directors. Ferguson is a Malaysia-based businessman who was brought onto the Board because of his experience in telecommunications.

The Bakrie Group also owns a number of sports teams, including the Brisbane Roar; Deportivo Indonesia, a U-19 team in Uruguay that has only Indonesian players; Arema Cronus FC, one of the two teams United played during their Indonesian tour; and C.S. Vise, the team from which Syamsir Alam was loaned to D.C. United.

Another interesting tidbit relating to International Sports Capital comes from the official press release of the purchase of Inter Milan by International Sports Capital: according to the release, Rosan Roeslani “also owns a stake in D.C. United alongside Mr. Thohir.” When I asked D.C. United for information about the ownership group of D.C. United, they were unable to provide much in the way of detail. They were able to confirm the three primary owners, in Will Chang, Jason Levien, and Erick Thohir, but also said that their ownership may or may not be through holding companies.

Erick Thohir has never been listed on any of Forbes’ lists of billionaires, either worldwide or in the Indonesia-specific article. But the truth is something more confusing, and somewhere that cannot be found through traditional stock listings and newspaper articles.

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