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.”
Then in August 2008, the prince’s mother announced that her son was in love with Manohara and that the couple would marry immediately. Manohara says an aide to the royal family persuaded her to go through with the ceremony to keep the peace. After that, she says, he told her she could return to Jakarta.
“I kept saying ‘no, no, no,’ ” Manohara recalled. The teen acknowledges that she married Fakhry, but insists that she said nothing at the ceremony and signed no papers.
Manohara soon returned to Jakarta to pursue her modeling career. But she says Fakhry called to say he felt terrible about the circumstances of the marriage and wanted to apologize.
They agreed to meet in Mecca, Saudi Arabia, for prayer and pilgrimage. Fajarina accompanied her daughter, but when it came time to fly home, Manohara says, she was spirited into a private jet.
“They left me on the tarmac,” Fajarina recalled.
“She was running after me,” Manohara says. “I could see her from the window.”
For the next nine months, she alleges, she was injected with tranquilizers and threatened if she did not appear happy when attending functions with the prince. She claims the prince also cut her chest several times with a razor.
In a news conference last June, she showed photos of the alleged razor wounds taken at the time with a cellphone camera. The wounds are now gone, she said.
Pillay dismissed the claims. “If you are cut on the breast, the marks are supposed to be there. Where are the scars?”
Manohara says she was able to keep hidden her BlackBerry and charger. She sent e-mails to her mother, who went to the Indonesian press about her daughter’s allegations.
The tabloid press ran with the story. “Fairy Tale of a Prince and His Bride Turns to Nightmare,” one headline screamed. “Manohara says she was held as sex slave by her prince,” read another. A Jakarta Post headline trumpeted: “Manohara: I Was Drugged and Abused.”
Many Indonesians took to the streets, demanding Manohara’s return. A protest outside the Malaysian Embassy in Jakarta turned violent. Malaysian government officials believe that Indonesians have been stirred up by sensationalist media.
“Both governments have taken a stand and said this is a personal matter between husband and wife,” said Eldeen Hussaini, deputy director of relations between the two nations for the Malaysian Foreign Ministry.
But businessman Shah says he was quietly asked to intervene in 2008 by government officials on both sides.
He asked to meet with Manohara privately, but Fakhry declined. “I told him I just wanted to ask about the allegations,” he says. “If the girl said she was happy, I was willing to let things be.”
Last May, Fakhry and Manohara traveled to Singapore, where Shah was finally able to meet her. At a restaurant, Manohara slipped him the note. As soon as he left the restaurant, Shah said, he called Fajarina, urging her to rush to Singapore. She arrived just before her daughter outwitted Fakhry and his phalanx of bodyguards and escaped, according to media reports.
The teenager pressed the emergency alarm in a Singapore hotel elevator, summoning security guards, who allowed Manohara to run into the waiting arms of her mother.
A spokesman for the U.S. Embassy in Singapore said that Manohara’s mother had contacted officials there before the escape and that they had assisted the teen but did not offer details.
Nearly a year later, Indonesians are still hungry for news on Manohara.
“It’s a universal fairy tale, a love story gone wrong. Young, poor girl meets prince. Prince turns into frog in her eyes,” said TV news anchor Dalton Tanonaka. “The truth lies somewhere in the middle, but the story remains great for gossip programs and rumor mills.”
The prince is still suffering, Pillay says. “There’s an element of sadness because he truly loves Manohara,” he says. “If I was in his position, I wouldn’t love her anymore. But perhaps the prince thinks she is too young and was brainwashed by her mother.”
For the princess, the ratings for her soap opera remain high, and she’s starting a new cosmetic line.
As for love and marriage, Manohara plans to take a time out to heal. She needs to purge the prince from her life, she says.
“People want to know about my life,” she says. “They ask, ‘Who is Manohara dating?’ The answer is no one. I’ve got lots of time for that.”