Asia's Former First Ladies Go Shopping

BY LEE HAN SHIH
Dec 15, 2008
*Special to asia!

What do former First Ladies who are ousted from power do when they feel restless? Retail therapy, of course.

 

In Hong Kong, Potjaman behaved like other rich mortals. Draped from head to toe in Louis Vuitton and wearing a watch that cost more than the annual salary of half a dozen Thais, she strolled from shop to shop, followed by three servants. She proved to be a tireless shopper. Not so Thaksin. After trying out a few items, including a Marc Jacobs blazer, Thaksin disappeared on a mysterious errand.

During his absence, Potjaman renewed her efforts. At the end of the day her entourage had accumulated eight shopping bags of branded goods. Accosted by reporters, Potjaman was very forthcoming. "I like branded items," she declared happily. Then, perhaps as an afterthought to their circumstances — she and her husband are accused of hiding hundreds of millions — she added "but money is a problem".

Potjaman refused to comment on her net worth, which is said to be at least US$2 billion. Still, she is arguably poorer (if such a word could be used on her) than Imelda, who ruled the Philippines beside her husband Ferdinand for 21 years before he was ousted and went into exile in 1986. How much the Marcoses were worth (Ferdinand died in 1989) has never been established, but it is generally considered to be at least a few billions of dollars.

What prompted Imelda to launch a jewellery collection made — in her words — from cast-offs from her wardrobe and flea market finds is hard to say. The items would be priced from US$20 to US$100, Imelda said.

Perhaps the 77-year-old was missing her real jewellery. Famous for shopping sprees in New York while her country wallowed in poverty, Imelda amassed a collection that was the envy of queens. On March 9, 1986, two weeks after her husband was forced to step down, a parcel addressed to Imelda Marcos was confiscated from a Greek national on Cathay Pacific CX902 outbound to Hong Kong.

In it was the fabulous Roumeloites collection. The centrepiece is a diamond necklace by Italian designer Buccellati, with 93 carats of diamonds, the centre one a 15-carat stone. Other pieces included:

A 20-carat emerald cabochon with a two-carat ruby cabochon and diamonds in white gold;

Imelda’s famous 30.76-carat diamond bangle bracelet from Bulgari which she had never worn as it still had a price tag of US$1 million on it when it was seized;

Heart-shaped diamonds, each five carats, with four rubies set in white gold;

A ruby-and-diamond bracelet with 10 five-carat pigeon-blood-red rubies surrounded by smaller rubies and diamonds in yellow gold, from Van Cleef & Arpels (this was often worn as it was in need of repair.);

A large pearl pendant surrounded by diamonds, rubies, sapphires and emeralds in a bow

A diamond choker with 15 five-carat Colombian emeralds and a total of 50 carats of diamonds set in platinum, also in need of repair.

All these are now in the hands of the Philippine authorities, who want to auction them and use the money for land reform. Imelda has been negotiating with them to buy the collection back. Meanwhile she will amuse herself selling trinkets.

 

Celebrity Hide-and-Seek

In November 14, the collective attention of the group of men who ousted former Thai Prime Minister Thaksin Shinawatra was turned on Hong Kong. Thaksin turned up in Central, Hong Kong’s premier shopping district with his wife Potjaman and three servants. Potjaman spent the entire afternoon shopping, followed by a large group of reporters. Thaksin, on the other hand, was much more elusive.

After fending off numerous attempts to interview him, he started a hide-and-seek game with the media along the shopping malls of Chater Road and Des Voux Road. The former policeman-turned-telecom-tycoon-turned-politician-turned exile must have been a wily child — he managed to disappear despite the many people dogging his heels. Two hours later, he reappeared, visibly more relaxed. He told reporters he had "a cup of coffee" somewhere in Gloucester Building. But Potjaman let the cat out of the bag.

"My husband", she said, "went to visit an old friend." Gloucester Building is full of lawyers. Did Thaksin sneak off for two hours to consult his attorney? If he did, what was he planning? Did it have anything to do with the huge sum of money he is said to have taken out of Thailand? These are the burning questions on the minds of the current rulers of Thailand.

 

Related Stories:

Malice in Wonderland: The Imelda Marcos Story

Meet Asia's Dynamic First Ladies

Dependents of the State: The Chen-shui Bian Saga

Bun Rany Hun Sen: Financier

Ho Ching: Investor

Potjaman Damapong Shinawatra: Geomancer

Selina Tsang: Pathfinder

Wu Shu-jen: Corruptor

 

lee han shihLee Han Shih is the founder, publisher and editor of asia! Magazine.

 

Contact Han Shih