BROWSE COUNTRIES/ TERRITORIES
The ties that bind
Last year the Liem Sioe Liong family again made news in Malaysia, but not in the way it wanted.
In October news leaked out that Jane Hint Husainy Abdullah was filing a divorce in the Syariah (Islamic) Lower Court in Kuala Lumpur against her husband, Mirzan Mahathir.
Mirzan is the eldest son of former Malaysia Prime Minister Mahathir Mohamad (Dr M) whose seven children have names which start with the letter “M”: Marina, Mirzan, Melinda, Mokhzani, Mukhriz, Maizura and Mazhar.
Jane Abdullah is Chinese, her last name, Abdullah which means “slave of God”, is the preferred choice of name for converted Muslims. She is said to be either the only daughter or niece of Liem Sioe Liong.
Jane and Mirzan are of the same age, 49, this year. The couple has four children. Jane married Mirzan in 1992, when she was 34. Not much is known about her past, though it was said that she was once engaged, or perhaps married, to the son of an Indonesian Chinese timber tycoon who studied and lived in Singapore. The man was said to have left her for another woman and was told never to set foot in Indonesia again for fear of death.
Jane may keep a low profile when it comes to her family, but she is very much a society lady in Kuala Lumpur, her adopted home. She is a partner in the upmarket Third Floor Restaurant in the J W Marriott Hotel in Bukit Bintang, Kuala Lumpur; and hobnobs with other rich wives. She kept company with the late Mrs Francis Yeoh, who died last year of breast cancer.
Jane herself suffers multiple forms of cancer (thyroid, breast and brain), and openly credited the late Mrs Yeoh for saving her life by taking her to Singapore for early detection and treatment. Her comments were full of sincerity, though somewhat lacking in tact. She and Mrs Yeoh were the wives of two of Malaysia’s most prominent businessmen. Mirzan runs Konsortium Logistik Malaysia, a huge logistics concern. Yeoh, a good friend of the Mahathir family, owns the sprawling YTL group, which is Malaysia’s biggest independent power producer, a coveted licence granted during the Mahathir reign. It is politically incorrect for Jane to publicly acknowledge that she and Mrs Yeoh placed more faith in the medical system of neighbouring Singapore than Malaysia itself.
Jane and Mrs Yeoh were close, and so are Francis Yeoh and Mirzan. Yeoh’s brother Michael served on the board of the non-profit Asian Strategy and Leadership Institute run by Mirzan. It has been pointed out that Jane only initiated divorce proceedings two months after Mrs Yeoh passed away.
The proceedings generated a lot of publicity, as it took place right in the midst of Dr M’s sudden and ferocious assault on his successor Abdullah Badawi, and his heart attack. The Malaysia media was transfixed, but no one had the inside dope of what led to the break-up. And, of course, the Mahathir family kept mum.
Events escalated after that. On November 15, barely a month after Jane filed for divorce and on the day when her case was to be heard, reporters thronging the Syariah Court were told by the judge Mohd Yunus Mohamad Zin that “for those who are waiting for Mirzan Mahathir's case, the file is in front of me. The plaintiff's lawyer has withdrawn the case". The judge asked reporters to identify themselves and seven women raised their hands. They were told that if they wanted more details they would have to get them from Jane’s lawyers. As it turned out, no details were forthcoming.
Jane and Mirzan, now back in matrimonial bliss, could have married for love. But it is difficult to shake the impression that there was a large commercial element lurking somewhere.
Mirzan, like all his brothers, owns a big business. Before breezing his way to the top of Malaysia’s corporate jungle, he worked as an investment banker in the US and Hong Kong, which he claimed was due to his MBA degree from the famed University of Pennsylvania’s Wharton School, rather than his lineage.
This might be the case, but Mirzan’s subsequent business deals, especially those in Malaysia, probably benefited from the fact that he was the son of the then PM.
And at least one deal could probably be traced to his marriage to Jane. Mirzan has (or had) multiple dealings with the Bimantara group owned by Bambang Trihatmodjo, second son of then Indonesian strongman president Suharto. Like Mirzan, Bambang, son of a head of state, also controlled a sprawling business empire. But unlike Mirzan, Bambang has never denied the advantage brought by his lineage.
Suharto had two close Chinese allies — Liem Sioe Liong and Bob Hasan, a Chinese from the Fujian province who has all but given up his Chinese identity. Liem was Suharto’s moneyman and formed many joint ventures and business dealings with the former President’s children. It is believed that Bambang met Mirzan through Liem, probably in Singapore where Bambang is said to have kept a large bungalow in the expensive East Coast area just to keep his dozen or so sports cars in air-conditioned comfort.
After the fall of Suharto and the retirement — of sorts — of Mahathir, the alliance between Bambang and Mirzan seems to have died a natural death. Whether this had any impact on Mirzan’s marriage is hard to say.
Lee Han Shih is the founder, publisher and editor of asia! Magazine.
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