THE trial of a former national shuttler from Singapore accused of stealing diamonds from the ex-wife of the Brunei Sultan has thrown up more tales of intrigue and deception resulting from gambling sprees in top casinos.
A British court heard that Fatimah Lim, 35, confessed to Brunei police that she stole diamonds from Madam Mariam Aziz, 57, in order to pay off a £5 million (S$10.4 million ) debt to five London casinos, reported The Daily Telegraph.
"I had the idea of getting the diamond rings and selling them off to pay my debts - my intention was to get the diamond rings back after paying my debt," Lim said in her statemet to Brunei police.
Lim, a 2002 Commonwealth Games silver medallist, is on trial in London accused of stealing three pieces of jewellery worth £12 million from Madam Mariam in 2009, replacing two of them with replicas of glass and the mineral tanzanite made by British jeweller Edwin Solomon.
Lim was then employed as the bodyguard and personal assistant to Madam Mariam. She was arrested in Brunei in January 2010.
But during the trial at Isleworth Crown Court in London last Friday, Lim claimed Brunei officers changed her statement in order to shift the blame for the loss of the gems away from her former boss and the Bruneian Royal Family.
She maintained that Madam Mariam struggled to pay off her gambling debts and that she was told to sell the latter's jewellery in order to pay off the losses, The Daily Telegraph reported.
But reports in the British media said Lim herself chalked up a huge debt playing the tables at top London casinos including the Clermont Club in Berkeley Square and Aspinalls near Park Lane.
Madam Mariam reportedly tempted Lim into a gambling lifestyle after jaunts to casinos in Singapore, Macau, and London. The former wife of the Brunei Sultan had earlier admitted in the London court that she sold jewellery to pay off £1 million in gambling debts after sprees at a string of London casinos.
The London court heard that Lim twice asked Madam Mariam's adopted daughter Afifa Abdullah if she could borrow a 12.71 carat blue diamond worth £7.6million, and a 27.1 carat yellow diamond worth £600,000, as collateral on a property deal.
"After I got the two diamond rings in July 2009, I met Edwin in his office in Hatton Garden - he took the size, weight, colour, he photocopied them in the office for about an hour then I returned the two diamond rings to Afifa," Lim told Brunei officers.
The ex-shuttler also showed Mr Solomon a forged letter stating that the jewels were a gift from Madam Mariam to her mother as a gesture of appreciation for 28 years of service as her personal assistant, the British court heard.
But Madam Mariam told the court that Lim's mother had never worked for her, and that they had met only once.
When the replicas were ready in September and October 2009, Lim told Mr Solomon she did not want to go through with her plan, but pressure from the casinos to pay up pushed her to "swap the diamond rings and sell the diamond rings to pay off my casino debt," according to The Daily Telegraph.
She is said to have sold the real diamonds to a Swiss dealer for £4.3 million.
When the fakes were eventually discovered by Madam Mariam, Lim allegedly maintained her account that she had lent the diamonds to investors as collateral.
The court heard that she later confessed, telling Brunei officers: "I want to change my entire statement - I want to tell the truth. I needed to pay five casinos in the UK as I owed them a total of £5m," said The Daily Telegraph.
The Independent reported that Lim also sent a text message to Madam Mariam's nephew. saying: "I truly regret what I have done. I really do. Please tell (Madam Mariam) to give me a chance to repent. I can't be behind bars. I am the breadwinner for two families."
Fatimah Lim,35, is accused of having stolen three items of jewellery from Madam Mariam Aziz - a bracelet containing eight diamonds worth £3.35m, a flawless 12-carat blue diamond ring worth £7.7m and a yellow diamond worth £600,000. Lim denies the three charges of theft.
The criminal trial is a sequel to the civil suit in 2012 in London which Madam Mariam won against Lim for the loss of the jewellery. The court in the civil case had found Lim liable for the losses and had ordered her to repay Madam Mariam S$7.88 million, which included S$755,592 in legal costs.
Who is Mariam Aziz?
Madam Mariam Aziz, 57, is the former wife of the Sultan of Brunei Hassanal Bolkiah. A former air hostess of Bruneian, Japanese and Scottish ancestry, she was married to the Sultan for 22 years before their divorce in 2003. They have four children, and remain on good terms, according to British newspaper The Independent.
Described as being "extremely wealthy", she owns properties in Leicestershire and Kensington in Britain and in Singapore.
Who is Fatimah Lim?
Fatimah Kumin Lim, 35, is a former Singapore national badminton player who played professionally from 1994 to 2002. The former Dunman Secondary School student, who is of Chinese-Malay parentage, left school at 15 to pursue a career in badminton.
She turned professional when she was 16 and went on to represent Singapore in numerous tournaments. She won a doubles silver medal with teammate Jiang Yanmei at the 2002 Commonwealth Games.
She quit the sport in December 2002 at the age of 24 because of persistent knee injuries
In 2003, Lim went to Brunei where she was hired as Madam Mariam's badminton coach, before becoming her bodyguard.