PETALING JAYA - Former beauty queen Pauline Chai has claimed that billionaire husband Tan Sri Khoo Kay Peng made her feel "like a prisoner" on their sprawling 404ha English country estate.
Speaking publicly for the first time since filing a high-profile divorce petition against Khoo in February, the 66-year-old Chai alleged that she could not leave their home without Khoo's permission.
She said his staff had also informed her in an e-mail that she could only spend £50 ($97) weekly on food.
"It said fruits were allowed and vegetables were allowed but I was not allowed to eat certain things that I wanted. My daughter said to me that I was being treated like a servant. I think she nailed it," she said in a report by British tabloid Daily Mail.
Chai, who was the Miss Malaysia/International 1969, expressed her happiness after filing for divorce, saying that she felt "controlled and isolated" during her marriage.
"During our marriage, he was very controlling but now I feel different. I feel very free," she said.
She added that she had not spoken to her estranged husband in 12 months and they had lived in separate mansions on their £30mil (RM149mil) estate at Rosway Park, near Berkhamsted, Hertfordshire.
The tabloid also said Khoo and Chai had their own team of Gurkha guards to protect their section of the estate, with Khoo living in a five-bedroom manor house and Chai in the main 15-bedroom house.
Currently, Khoo, 74 - who is on Forbes' list as one of Malaysia's 50 richest men - and Chai are embroiled in what could be the largest divorce settlement in British history.
Chai could be awarded up to £500mil (RM2.375bil) by the London High Court, half of Khoo's estimated worth, as English law works on the basis of 50-50 split of assets.
She had stated "unreasonable behaviour" as grounds for the divorce.
Khoo owns 40 per cent of the international Laura Ashley brand, and is the chairman and group chief executive of the Malayan United Industries Group of Companies as well as director of Corus Hotels Limited in Britain.
They married in 1970 and have five grown-up children.
The tabloid also reported that Khoo wanted the case to be heard in Malaysia, where Chai will be entitled to much less than the amount she could be awarded in Britain.
However, Chai argued that she has not been a Malaysian citizen for 30 years, saying that she loves England and "everything English".
"I have been living here for years. I want English justice because it is fair. That is all I am asking for," she said.
The former glamour couple will be represented by Britain's top divorce lawyers, Ayesha Vardag for Chai, and Fiona Shackleton for Khoo. Shackleton recently represented British chef Nigella Lawson for her divorce from advertising mogul Charles Saatchi and Prince Charles during his divorce from the late Diana, Princess of Wales.
Preliminary hearings for the case are expected to take place over the next few months.