The souring of a 43-year-old marriage

Ms Pauline Chai was crowned Miss Malaysia in 1969.
Ms Pauline Chai was crowned Miss Malaysia in 1969.PHOTO: SCREENGRAB/ STAR

LONDON • The court's decision onLaura Ashley's major stakeholder and his former wife on Thursday capped their four-year divorce saga.

The media had over the years detailed how the 43-year-old marriage of Malaysian business tycoon Khoo Kay Peng and Miss Malaysia 1969 Pauline Chai turned acrimonious.

The couple used to live a lavish lifestyle, with homes also in Kuala Lumpur, Canada and Australia.

In Britain, they lived in separate mansions at Rossway Park, a 405ha estate in Berkhamstead, Hertfordshire, guarded by Gurkhas and containing some llamas, alpacas and two man-made lakes costing £60,000 (S$104,000) each.

According to The Telegraph newspaper, when challenged by Mr Khoo's lawyers at one point in the case that Ms Chai had an extensive collection of clothes, shoes and handbags in her Kuala Lumpur home, she responded: "When you have houses all over the world and you travel so much, (you have some at each house), so you don't have to carry it all along with you."

 

Mr Khoo, 78, is ranked 50th on Malaysia's richest list by Forbes, with an estimated net worth of US$300 million (S$420 million).

He is chairman of Malayan United Industries, an investment holding company with substantial stakes in lifestyle brand Laura Ashley UK and the Corus group of hotels, about 10 of which are in Britain.

The Daily Mail reported that a lawyer for Ms Chai, 68, had told the court in October 2014 that she lived on a "beautiful English estate", had a taste for English TV shows and valued what was "quintessentially" English.

It had been reported that Ms Chai had her 15-room Hertfordshire home decked out in Laura Ashley furnishings because she "loved England and everything English", and not just because her husband owns a 44 per cent stake in the clothing and interiors firm.

Ms Chai filed for divorce in February 2013, citing her husband's unreasonable behaviour. She has accused him of being "very controlling", rationing her food and forbidding her from leaving their house without his permission.

She said she was not divorcing her husband for money, but to get away from a "violent" relationship, admitting that at one point she had locked herself in a back room, according to The Telegraph.

"I just wanted to get away from an abusive, oppressive relationship which I could not take because of my age," she said. "When I was younger, I could recover. Now it is too difficult to overcome it because of the violence and the fear he is putting on me," she added.

She claimed he had told her: "You are nothing, you have nothing, you have no bargaining powers."

Lawyers for the reclusive magnate had strenuously denied these allegations.

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Sunday Times on April 09, 2017, with the headline 'The souring of a 43-year-old marriage'. Print Edition | Subscribe