KUALA LUMPUR, Nov 3 ― Tycoon Tan Sri Khoo Kay Peng’s daughter Angeline Francis is backing her mother in Britain’s potentially biggest divorce, claiming that her parents’ marriage was marked by domestic abuse.
Francis also said her father, aged 74, had cut off contact with her for four years because the retail and hotel magnate allegedly did not approve of her husband, a man of Caribbean origin.
“Ultimately, I feel proud of mum for being so brave, I feel relief the divorce has given the rest of the family freedom from an oppressive situation, and I feel heartbroken for dad that he’s lost his moral compass and awareness of what’s important in life,” Francis, 31, told Malay Mail Online recently in an exclusive interview from London, UK, where she resides.
“My heart is heavy for dad because if his behaviour continues, he’ll be alone in his twilight years, estranged from all his kids. I know each of us prays for him and hopes he’ll make a change so we kids can have a genuine relationship with him,” added Francis, the fourth of Khoo’s and Pauline Chai’s five children.
Francis recalled that her parents’ divorce started after over four decades of marriage and five children with a phone call from Chai from Rossway ― the couple’s £30 million (RM158 million) family home in Hertfordshire, England ― in October 2012, in which her 68-year-old mother sounded panicky saying she could no longer bear the marriage.
“Mum rang and suddenly started telling me everything she’d been holding in for 43 years, in particular about the violence she’d been suffering in the latter part of their marriage; in fact when she rang me, it was from a backroom she’d locked herself into at Rossway after a violent episode. She sounded very scared,” said Francis.
Francis detailed her claims in a letter she wrote to the English judge in chambers at the London court last August.
Malay Mail Online understands that only Khoo and Chai have been called as witnesses at the hearing in the High Court here which starts later today to decide the jurisdiction of the billion-ringgit divorce dispute.
One of the most painful things that Francis said her family has endured was how Khoo, chairman of international brand Laura Ashley, allegedly refused to provide financial or medical assistance for her two brothers who suffer from autism and Tourette’s syndrome respectively, forcing one of them to apply for welfare assistance from the state in Canada.
“When I asked dad to help them, he refused to acknowledge their disabilities and said they were perfectly fine. He told me he expects them to work and support themselves because that’s what men do,” said Francis.
She related how the two brothers were often forced to live in darkness because they could not afford power bills during the time they lived together in Canada from 2008 to 2012.
Her brother with autism tried to work at McDonald’s, but he would injure himself burning his hands and arms and could not keep up with the pace. He eventually got fired.
Francis said she then helped him apply for welfare and disability assistance.
According to Francis, he was in the final stages of the application when he moved to England in 2012 to stay with Chai, who uses her allowance from Khoo to support him and her other brother who suffers from Tourette’s. That brother still lives in Canada and is often unable to pay bills for water or electricity.
The brothers are not named to protect their identities.
Francis also claimed Khoo had cut off contact with her for four years because she married a man her father did not approve of. Khoo re-established contact with her in 2012, although he still refused to accept her husband and told her he would have nothing to do with any children they have in the future, Francis alleged.
“I suspected dad’s first question would be to ask if the man I chose was a Christian, but his first question was ‘what colour is he’. Dad then told me he would never approve of a ‘dark’ person,” she said.
Francis also claimed Khoo — who runs international investment holding company Malayan United Industries Bhd — had refused to continue funding her law studies at Oxford University in the UK where she had met her soon-to-be husband and sent her back to Canada, where she had lived with her family as a child.
“He told me if I carried on our relationship, I would be alone as he’d have nothing to do with me. I got engaged some time after that and dad disowned me. During this time, he also banned mum from having anything to do with me and threatened divorce if she didn’t comply,” she said.
Francis said the last time she spoke to Khoo was in February last year because her father was allegedly angry with her for not influencing one of her siblings to do something he wanted.
“He implied if I didn’t, he would revoke an offer for a directorship at Laura Ashley that he’s made. I didn’t do what he wanted and the offer was revoked. Dad hasn’t spoken to me since this period of time,” she said.
According to Francis, she only saw Khoo once or twice a year during her childhood and could not remember her father being around except for the occasional birthday or Christmas.
Francis said her parents got married in 1970 when Chai was 24, right after she won the Miss Malaysia beauty pageant, and when Khoo was 31.
“Dad was just starting out and was at the beginning of his success ― successful by a lot of standards but nowhere near what he is now and no, not a tycoon,” she said.
Francis added that Chai got pregnant with the first child in 1971, just a year after getting married, and has always been a homemaker.
“It wasn’t until she started helping dad with Laura Ashley in 1998 that she began doing some work outside the house; this was in the capacity of overseeing the fashion designing. As a child, I only remember her being around on a regular basis ― she had to be both a mum and dad,” she said.
Khoo and Chai, an ex-beauty queen, are battling over the jurisdiction of the acrimonious divorce, with the billionaire fighting to have it heard in Malaysia while his estranged wife is arguing for UK rule where she lives with her disabled son.
Under English law, Chai stands to get half of his estimated £400 million (RM2.1 billion) fortune, potentially the largest court award in English divorce history.
An English court ruled earlier on October 17, after a fully contested two-week hearing, that England was the more appropriate forum for the case to be heard. However, Khoo is pressing forward with a hearing at the Kuala Lumpur High Court starting today.
The Miss Malaysia 1969 has repeatedly accused her “very controlling” husband of rationing her food and forbidding her from leaving their house without his permission.