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A fairy tale gone wrong

A beautiful model, a Malaysian prince, a cry for help and claims of sexual abuse leave much of Indonesia captivated.

April 13, 2010|By John M. Glionna
  • Manohara Odelia Pinot, 18, was sued by her husband for defamation, and in March, a Malaysian civil court awarded him a $1.8-million judgment.
Manohara Odelia Pinot, 18, was sued by her husband for defamation, and in… (John M. Glionna / Los Angeles…)

Reporting from Jakarta, Indonesia — The beautiful young socialite slipped the businessman a note scrawled in eyeliner on a crumpled napkin. "Help me," it pleaded.

She was a teenage Indonesian model who had married a Malaysian prince, but Manohara Odelia Pinot says her life with him was no fairy tale. Press accounts of her allegations of abuse and tales of her escape from an unhappy marriage have captivated this country, and further divided two nations that have long been Southeast Asian rivals.

Known across Indonesia by her first name, which means "thief of hearts" in Sanskrit, Manohara is viewed here as a tragic heroine mistreated by an obsessed suitor who became outraged when she would not yield to his demands. In Kuala Lumpur, the Malaysian capital, she's dismissed as a lying gold-digger under the control of a vindictive mother.

For nine months, the 18-year-old alleges, she was held captive on the estate of the prince, Tengku Muhammad Fakhry Petra. Grabbing headlines in the Jakarta Globe and other news outlets, she alleged that he cut her with a razor and ordered his doctor to inject her with a tranquilizer and raped her.

"Imagine someone doing something like that to you and you are unable to move, -- you can't do anything about it," she says softly, her eyes tearing. "It was torture, mentally and physically."

Fakhry did not respond to interview requests. But he sued his wife and her mother, Daisy Fajarina, for defamation last summer, and in March, a Malaysian civil court awarded Fakhry a $1.8-million judgment.

Haaziq Pillay, Fakhry's lawyer, says the prince disputed every one of Manohara's claims and questions why she avoided the Malaysian court proceedings.

"From rape to cutting her with a razor to injecting her -- these are only things a monster would do, a psychopath," Pillay says. "My client wants the truth to come out.

"She said she was afraid of the security, but this isn't a cowboy society," he says. "People don't get abducted in the streets here."

Manohara insists that she will never pay the prince a penny and challenges him to file a second civil lawsuit in Jakarta, where she says he'd receive a less positive reception. She's also filed a police report, for alleged domestic violence, and warns that Fakhry will be arrested the moment he sets foot in Indonesia.

Even before her marriage into Malaysian royalty, Manohara was considered a rare gem here and was named one of "Indonesia's 100 Most Precious Women" by Harper's Bazaar Indonesia magazine.

Now, capitalizing on a saga that has obsessed Indonesians much like Tiger Woods' fall from grace in the United States, Manohara stars in a popular TV show about a young wife abused by her philandering husband, and she demands high fees for speaking engagements.

Many viewers simply cannot keep their eyes off the young model, born to an American father and Indonesian mother, who has become a cat-eyed Paris Hilton of Indonesia. A full half-hour documentary on her alleged travails has aired repeatedly on Jakarta television, "at times almost a continuous loop," according to the Asia Sentinel newspaper.

But not everyone is captivated.

"This is a freak show in a freak-loving country full of two-headed goats and Islamic hard-liners," said Wimar Witoelar, who hosts his own TV talk show. "It just shows how people with cheap tastes get titillated by cheap stories. That's Manohara."

The Malaysian businessman who was slipped Manohara's letter pleading for help says the 32-year-old prince, a thin man with deeply set dark eyes, wants his wife back and is pursuing the case against his family's wishes.

He is convinced that once he has Manohara back, he can persuade her to silence her criticism and resume their marriage, the businessman said.

"I have never seen a man so obsessed with a woman," says Dato Kadar Shah, who was asked by government officials to help solve the matter. "The people in his province also love her. They view her like Princess Diana. He needs her back for his credibility."

Manohara was just 14 when she met her prince.

Fakhry, the son of the monarch of one of Malaysia's nine regional sultanates, approached the girl at a party in Jakarta as she sat with her older sister. Within days, Manohara says now, she didn't even recall him.

But Fakhry remembered her. "You have two lovely daughters," Fajarina recalled him telling her. "I would like to keep in touch with them."

For years, the prince met with Manohara, with Fajarina always by her side. But on one cruise, Manohara alleged in a story in the Jakarta Globe, Fakhry raped her while her mother was in an adjoining cabin.

In his successful defamation lawsuit, the prince denied the charges.

Then 16, Manohara didn't tell her mother what happened. "I was in denial," she says. "I knew if I changed my behavior, my mom would find out. I was embarrassed."

Her mother says she was blind to the prince's obsession. "I didn't see the signs," she says. "I thought he was charming."

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