* Malaysia ready to protect foreign investors - Johor minister
* Project to create thousands of jobs in construction
* PM Mahathir had vowed to keep foreigners out of Forest City (Adds Johor minister’s quotes, Country Garden shares, and background)
By Fathin Ungku
ISKANDAR PUTERI, Malaysia, Sept 4 (Reuters) - The chief minister of the Malaysian state of Johor said on Tuesday foreigners are welcome to buy property in Chinese developer Country Garden’s controversial $100 billion Forest City project on Malaysia’s southern shore.
Forest City is a 30-year project that provides jobs for Malaysians, chief minister Osman Sapian said, in comments that appeared to contradict Prime Minister Mahathir Mohamad’s vow last week to prevent foreigners from buying housing in the project.
“The Johor government believes that Malaysia has comprehensive laws that protect the rights of foreign investors and companies, including purchasing property,” Osman told a briefing.
“The Johor government believes that the federal government is able to be fair in protecting foreign companies that run operations in Malaysia,” he said.
The comments appear unlikely to ease confusion surrounding the fate of the giant project, which had already faced much uncertainty, following Mahathir’s pledge last week.
Country Garden shares were little changed on Tuesday morning in a flat Hong Kong stock market.
Chinese buyers account for about two-thirds of Forest City units sold so far. A fifth are from Malaysia and the rest from 22 other countries, including Indonesia, Vietnam and South Korea.
“Country Garden Pacificview is always providing economic benefits from the project to local agencies,” Osman said, referring to the joint venture between the Chinese developer and the Johor state.
The project will create more than 9,000 jobs in the construction sector, he added.
Mahathir had capitalised on popular disquiet about Chinese investment pouring into Malaysia during his campaign ahead of the stunning election win on May 9.
Osman belongs to the coalition that brought Mahathir to power.
Since becoming prime minister Mahathir has put the brakes on a number of China-backed projects, including the $20 billion East Coast Rail Link project and a natural gas pipeline project in Sabah state. (Reporting by Fathin Ungku; Writing by Jack Kim; Editing by Muralikumar Anantharaman)