By Richard Edwards
12:01AM BST 12 Jul 2007
She was a former air hostess who married the world’s richest man.
But when the Sultan of Brunei divorced Mariam Aziz after two decades together – replacing her with a glamorous television reporter 32 years his junior – she was left wondering where life would take her.
Unfortunately, she looked for the answers from a fortune teller she met in a London casino.
Three-and-a-half years later, after the most “bizarre” series of court cases, Mrs Aziz and five of the country’s most senior judges are still scratching their heads at what happened next.
“Mrs Zino”, a frail Iraqi lady in her late sixties, read her palms, became her “trusted friend” and then tricked her out of £2 million.
The fortune teller threatened to reveal “embarrassing” details about Mrs Aziz’s marriage to the 60-year-old Sultan when she was sued. After a case full of theatrics, she was jailed for five months.
But there was one final card to be played. The Sultan of Brunei stepped in, claiming that as a head of state he deserved his “dignity” to be preserved. He said that as an “act of respect” the story should be suppressed.
In yesterday’s final act, three judges at the Court of Appeal ruled that to ban publicity would be against the principle of free speech. They lifted anonymity orders won by the Sultan – allowing the story to be told.
Mrs Aziz, who is half Bruneian, a quarter Japanese and a quarter English, divorced the Sultan in 2003.
She was stripped of all her royal titles and despite “immense personal wealth” she was not happy.
Court papers revealed she found the split “very upsetting” and said she struggled to adjust to life as an independent woman.
In an earlier judgment, Mr Justice Underhill said: “She struck me as not particularly confident nor particularly sophisticated.”
He added: “A picture emerged. . . of a woman who was generous and trusting but rather lonely and eager for friendship.”
During a trip to her London home in December 2003, she found herself in the Rendevous casino on Park Lane. There she met ”Mrs Zino” – whom she came to know by her real name, Aziza Amir – and they quickly became close. She confided in Mrs Amir the circumstances surrounding her divorce and her innermost secrets.
The next month, the fortune teller “introduced” her by telephone to an eligible young man called “Mr Aziz”. They developed a relationship – but only over the phone. The stranger declared his love to her, and said he needed money for his businesses and to buy a house.
Over the following months, Mrs Aziz made seven bank transfers totalling £1,254,000.
She sent cash payments of around £760,000 to the young man and showered him with gifts – including two diamond bangles, seven Louis Vuitton shirts and jumpers and a Cartier diamond watch. Ten months later, however, when she still had not met him, she became suspicious. It was then she made the most “remarkable” discovery.
There was no Mr Aziz; he had never existed. It was in fact Mrs Amir putting on a man’s voice at the other end of the telephone.
Mrs Amir had even employed a mini-cab driver to act as a go-between – delivering dinners and roses to her and picking up the large cash payments in shoe boxes. She kept them under her bed in north London and spent the cash on massive gambling sprees at casinos.
When she realised she had been caught, the fortune-teller went on the offensive, threatening to release “embarrassing” details of Mrs Aziz’s life with the Sultan. A letter from Mrs Amir dated Jan 10, 2005 said that the unspecified “information” was so serious it would “cause more damage than an earthquake”.
A letter in April, 2005, set out seven alleged facts about Mrs Aziz’s relationship with her husband – all “of a confidential nature”.
In the ensuing High Court case – held in private because of the Sultan’s protest – Mr Justice Underhill said Mrs Amir “sometimes wholly lost control of herself”. She was jailed for five months for contempt of court and ordered to return the money to Mrs Aziz.
Mr Justice Underhill said: “Fortune tellers are likely to be good practical psychologists and to have a good understanding of human suggestibility, not to say gullibility.
“Mrs Amir is, in my judgment an extremely shrewd and manipulative woman. Her gambling habit gave her a pressing need for money. She is bold and not afraid to take her chances.”
Lord Justice Lawrence Collins, who made yesterday’s ruling, described the saga as an “extraordinary case”.