JUNE 26, 2009

Todt in warm water

Jean Todt, rumoured to be a potential candidate for the FIA presidency in October - if Max Mosley does not stand - has been in the newspapers in Malaysia in recent days as the result of a planned payment of $411,000 from the government for him to act as a tourism ambassador. Todt landed the cash because he is currently partnered with former beauty queen Michelle Yeoh, who was Miss Malaysia and a contestant in the Miss World pageant 26 years ago. She went to appear in several adverts with local legend Jackie Chan and then tried her hand at films, making martial arts films before getting her big chance in 1997 in the James Bond film Tomorrow Never Dies, alongside Pierce Brosnan. She enjoyed some success in 2005 with Memoirs of a Geisha. As Malaysia's biggest film star she obviously has some profile at home but the news that Todt is being paid as a tourism ambassador caused controversy in Kuala Lumpur.

Member of Parliament Azmin Ali claimed during question time that in addition to the payments Todt and Yeoh were given a piece of the land in Terengganu to promote an island, as a way to boost the tourism industry. He has also claimed that the money is little more than a way to fund Todt's holiday expenses.

Tourism Minister Datuk Seri Dr Ng Yen Yen said Todt was acting as a volunteer to promote Malaysia and had been allocated a two-year budget for this purpose.

"The financing for Todt for him to act as Malaysia‘s tourism ambassador is not for his own pocket," the minister argued. "It‘s the ministry‘s money. He doesn‘t get a cent for his personal use. He is given a budget whenever he travels to meet people overseas."

It will be interesting to see if Malaysia's tourist numbers continue to fall or whether a rather unglamorous 63-year-old Frenchman will reverse the trend and have a major effect on the holiday plans of the tourist classes of Europe.