“Bling Empire” star Anna Shay dies unexpectedly at 62, leaving questions about her mysterious wealth and family’s history with CIA counterinsurgency operation

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    Anna Shay

    6th June 2023 – (Los Angeles) Anna Shay, the matriarch of the hit Netflix reality show “Bling Empire,” has died unexpectedly at the age of 62. Shay’s family released a statement describing her as a “loving mother, grandmother, charismatic star, and our brightest ray of sunshine.” The cause of death was a stroke.

    Shay quickly became a fan favourite on “Bling Empire” due to her larger-than-life personality and mysterious wealth. On the show, co-star Kane Lim claimed that Shay’s fortune came from “weapons,” but she disputed the claim, saying her father was the founder of Pacific Architects and Engineers (PAE), a global contractor for American defence services dating back to the 1960s. While PAE’s clients today include NASA and the United Nations, in the 1960s and 1970s, it provided cover for the Phoenix Program, a CIA-led operation that aimed to weed out undercover communist Viet Cong operatives and their sympathisers through a strategy that led to torture and, at times, killings of Vietnamese people and others.

    Many experts consider the Phoenix Program one of the “ugliest aspects” of the Vietnam War. William Colby, who eventually became the head of the CIA, led the efforts and admitted in testimony before a House subcommittee in July 1971 that the program killed 20,587 Viet Cong suspects. Other sources report far higher figures.

    Shay’s father launched PAE in 1955 and was reported to have been involved in the CIA-led counterinsurgency operation from 1968 to 1972. Research published by the University of Texas at Dallas details that the CIA hired PAE to build interrogation facilities in all of South Vietnam‘s 44 provinces in 1964.

    While Shay did not respond to requests for comment, PAE declined to comment. Kimberly Kay Hoang, director of global studies at the University of Chicago, whose research delves into ultra-high-net-worth people who invest in risky markets, questioned how Shay’s wealth was never scrutinized more closely. “Somehow she can … be in Beverly Hills and be living the good life, and no one raises questions about where that money came from,” she said.

    Hoang said that the privatisation of wartime activities means it is more difficult to hold the government accountable, and the activities of contractors like PAE may never be known. “This is what I call reputation laundering. Rather than having the state do it, the state subcontracted out for someone else to do it. So if someone else does it, and they do dirty by it, it’s on them. You created a firewall between the state and the outcome.”

    While the company’s ownership has changed hands since the Vietnam War, its decades-old business activities should not be forgotten, Hoang said. The family sold the company to Lockheed Martin in 2006 for $1.2 billion. It was most recently acquired by Gores Holdings III Inc.

    Talking about the history is not about making a judgment about Shay’s character, Hoang said. But it is concerning that neither the show nor the majority of conversations about it deal with the origins of her wealth, she said, even with a Vietnamese cast member on the show, Kim Lee. The absence of such questions in part erases the painful history, and Shay’s and Lee’s histories are likely to be connected in far deeper ways than they realise, Hoang said. “That history is only one generation off, and you forget. You forget.”