Thursday, 21 April 2011

The Syed Kechik "400 million ringgit" problem....

There are not many people who can accummulate RM400 million in their lifetime. I think any person with this much amount of money in their pockets would have been placed on the list of the top 50 or top 100 richest people in the country.

So when news emerged that a very prominent retired politician and businessman had died two years ago and had left this much behind, it pricked up my ears. After all, busybody that I am, I'm always interested to know how people distribute their estate to the next-of-kin. In fact, I was more than doubly interested here because the deceased was a Muslim and according to the Syariah law, the Faraid would determine the proportions that his heirs should receive. The problem is, just as most non-Muslims do not bother about writing their Wills, Muslims also have a tendency to ignore their Wasiat. Muslims would normally say, "Ahh, we are governed by the Syariah, so let the Faraid determine the distribution for us." Unfortunately, they fail to realise that the Faraid only identifies the heirs and determines the proportion of distribution to them. They would still need an Executor or an Administrator to carry out the process of distribution properly. Leaving it to the heirs to sort it out among themselves is no solution at all. So writing a Will or a Wasiat is most helpful, if only to appoint someone as the personal representative when the person dies.

I do have a basic idea of the Syariah estate distribution process. In fact, I take pride that I understand much more than the next non-Muslim Man-In-the-Street. The subject can be quite fascinating. But to me as a non-Muslim, the Faraid is fraught with the most complex of calculations, full of equations and fractions, with classifications like Quranic heirs and non-Quranic heirs, and with the rule that male heirs getting twice as much as female heirs. Get the idea how complicated it is? It is no wonder then that many Muslims are also unsure of how the Faraid works for them in the distribution process.

Okay, that's all the lesson you will get from me this morning regarding the Muslim estate distribution process. What I really wanted to say that I was scanning today's print copy of The Star newspaper - the northern edition, that is - and was puzzled to find missing the story of the conclusion of the legal battle surrounding Syed Kechik Syed Mohamed Al-Bukhary's RM400 million estate. This wasn't even a legal tussle to determine distribution; it was just a court case to decide who could be appointed as the administrators to the estate.

For you see, Syed Kechik, for all his financial acumen and worldly outlook on life, had overlooked that his family could get embroiled in a murky legal battle once he was gone. He had a son from a first marriage that had ended in a divorce. He married a second time and was blessed with two daughters. It was of no surprise that the son could not get along with his step-mother and half-sisters, and that was where the battle line was drawn. The ladies wanted to be the only co-administrators of Syed Kechik's estate so as to continue with the father's big family business without interruption but the son wanted in as well to protect his own self-interest. The case went from the High Court right up till the Federal Court. And that's just to affirm that the four of them, Syed Kechik's heirs, would be equal co-administrators.

If anyone is interested, I have a summary of the long and complicated legal saga written here, with links to various news reports over the past two years.

It's not the end of the story though. The real test begins when the four of them - or rather, the lawyers for the four of them - sit down to work out the details of responsibility and distribution. There's already so much bad blood between the two sides. Can they ever agree to anything across the negotiation table?

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