The tiny, tiny book worth a mere $10 million
July 23, 2006
Islamic treasure: David Rahme holds the miniature Koran.
Photo: Jacky Ghossein
THREE Australian investors have launched legal action against one of the world’s richest men, the Sultan of Brunei, over his refusal to pay for a wedding present for his second bride, a 26-year-old Malaysian television host.
The court action now involves the Australian Government, which is required to serve orders on the Sultan or his diplomatic representatives in Canberra. The Sultan is worth an estimated $A53 billion.
The gift is a 400-year-old Islamic treasure a handwritten Koran in a bejewelled box that can fit into the palm of a hand.
Valued at more than $10 million, the antique is the property of Garsec Pty Ltd, a Sydney-registered company whose directors are David Rahme, Michael McGurk and Hugh Millikin.
To make the story even more exotic, they purchased the holy book from a former KGB colonel, Inal Kochiev, who told the Sydney buyers that the Ottoman Empire relic had been in his family’s possession for more than 100 years.
Professor Ahmad Shboul, chairman of the department of Arabic and Islamic studies at Sydney University, has authenticated the exquisitely made piece, saying: “This is a rare copy of the Koran of exceptional characteristics.”
It was probably written in the 16th or 17th century, he said, and its tiny size probably meant it was kept “as a sacred object of blessing rather than a text to be read on a regular basis”.
Mr Rahme said a sale was brokered with representatives of the Sultan last year and arrangements were made for it to be handed over and the purchase price paid into a Citibank account in Singapore.
The agreement to sell the religious antique for $10.6 million was completed in April 2005 with the Sultan’s godson, Sunny Chai, after cloak-and-dagger meetings in palaces and luxury hotels in the oil-rich kingdom.
They were told the Sultan, a Sandhurst graduate who celebrated his 60th birthday last weekend, intended presenting the Koran to his new wife, Azrinaz Mazhar Hakim, whom he married in Kuala Lumpur last August at a closely guarded private ceremony. She is a former presenter on Malaysia’s TV3 channel.
But the deal went bad at the 11th hour and since then the Sultan’s courtiers have evaded contact and the service of letters and court documents.
Mr Rahme and his colleagues have made more than a dozen trips to Brunei in the past year attempting to finalise the deal. “Suddenly, without explanation, they placed themselves in breach of contract, and we had no choice but to seek legal redress,” he said.
Mr Rahme said the syndicate had spent more than $400,000 on overseas trips, accommodation and legal expenses and now wanted to “have our day in court”.
Under the proposed sale, the purchase price would be shared between Garsec directors and an Islamic charity for children in south-western Sydney.
“If we win our damages action against the Sultan we will either give the box to the Sultan or donate it to the Lakemba mosque,” Mr Rahme said.
“We are only interested in getting our money back plus our expenses. After that, we’d prefer to see it in a Sydney mosque where it can be appreciated.”
FOUR DECADES A RULER
Sultan Hassanal Bolkiah of Brunei is one of the world’s few remaining absolute monarchs. He has ruled the oil-rich state, on Borneo’s west coast, for nearly four decades. The country’s 374,000 people pay no taxes and have one of the highest standards of living in the world. Since 1962 the sultan has ruled by decree.
Hassanal Bolkiah became sultan in October 1967 after his father, Sir Haji Omar Ali Saifuddin, abdicated. In 1991 he introduced a conservative ideology called Malay Muslim Monarchy, which presented the monarchy as the defender of the faith. He is 60 years old.