Thursday, December 11, 2008

“Message from Malaysia” (Part One)

c. 2008 Rod Ice
All rights reserved

Journalism requires prodigious amounts of study and patience to produce a worthy result. Yet the successful wordsmith must also keep an eye on the clock while composing creative prose. Deadlines in this business are ever-present. One must inform and excite the reader, but do so in a timely manner. This truism keeps the professional writer in a constant state of motion. Squandered time will yield lost opportunities. There is no substitute for hard work when slinging ink for a living.

Yet even after such dutiful efforts, the best stories still seem to write themselves.

I was reminded of such things recently, at the Icehouse home office. Through my ‘Thoughts At Large’ e-mail account, I received a message from a city thousands of miles away – Kuala Lumpur:

“Dear Rodney Ice,
I am Barrister Bhag Sulaiman, a legal practitioner in Malaysia, with many years of practice. I was an attorney to a deceased client of mine who died in Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia of a heart related condition in 2001. My reason of sending you this email is to help secure the funds left behind by my client before it is confiscated or declared unserviceable by the bank where this fund valued at ($8.7Million) was deposited.

Since you do have the same surname with my late client, I would want to present you as the legitimate beneficiary with all legal documents required to back the claim up. The holding bank has issued me a notice to contact the next of kin, or the account will be confiscated, and so far, all my efforts to get hold of someone related to this man has proved abortive.

This is my proposal; I am asking for your consent to present you to the bank as the next-of-kin and beneficiary of my late client, since you have the same last name, so that the proceeds of this account can be paid to you. Then we can share the amount on a mutually agreed-upon percentage. I do have a good standing in Malaysia, it is my assurance that this transaction will be successful and that I will make sure every transaction is done within the applicable laws to guarantee full legitimacy.”

My first thought was of Nigerian Internet scammers who had gained notoriety a few years ago. The note made me grin. A share of $8.7 million would be wonderful, but… could someone named ‘Ice’ really have lived in Malaysia?

I decided to investigate this overseas lawyer to determine if he actually existed. Surprisingly, results for his name appeared quickly:

Bhag Sulaiman & Co
ADDRESS 6th Floor, Wisma Indah
STREET Jln Tun Razak
CITY Kuala Lumpur
STATE Wilayah Persekutuan
PHONE 03-9282 2577

Predictably, this information soon had me thinking of a potential newspaper feature. I was curious about what form his attempt at deception would take. It seemed tempting to answer his solicitation with questions of my own. So after a moment of reflection, I composed a reply to the message from Malaysia:

“Dear Mr. Sulaiman,
Your e-mail message comes as a surprise, particularly because persons with my family name are unique and rare among world citizens. It is indeed likely that anyone who shares my surname is a distant relative of some sort. Therefore, I am intrigued by your proposal.

I operate under a strict code of ethics as a gentleman and Christian. Nevertheless, your offer is interesting to consider. As a good faith effort, allow me to ask that you provide more details in the following areas:

1. Your own legal practice
2. The practical intent of your proposal
3. The methodology we would employ to achieve our shared goals
4. The benefit yield I could expect from our partnership

My sincere thanks for your indulgence in this matter. I pledge faithfully to maintain discretion and confidentiality in this discussion.”

Obviously, I avoided mention of writing for a newspaper. A few days elapsed, and then the barrister sent a second message, offering more cryptic thoughts about his plan:

“Attn: Rodney Ice,
In relation to my proposal mail to you, I had a client who was a mineral resources merchant in Malaysia here, born by two migrant workers in Malaysia which made him a Malaysian permanent resident holder. My client died in 2001 of Pulmonary infection (heart Related Condition). My late client lost his parents about 10 years ago. He was not married nor did he have kids. As the attorney to my late client I reliable knew that he died intestate (sic) because he did not have any Will before his demise…
As I told you in my proposal mail, I contacted you because of your last name which is the same as my late client's name. It is not that you are really his relative nor the legitimate beneficiary. I only want to present you based on your last name (and its only you and I knows this because the Malaysian High Court has to accept anyone that I present to them as the beneficiary). Honesty is another issue that I wish to emphasize on because I do not know you and I do not have any option than to believe that I am choosing the right person for this transaction. I got your information via internet when I was searching for people that have the same last name with my late client and i am greatful you reply to me.

There is no risk to this transaction as we will process all the required documents by law for a beneficiary claim. I have personally studied all applicable laws and found out that this is a transaction that we can do successfully without it backfiring as far as we go with the plan I have set down and that we kept it secret.

In this transaction we will go step by step, first with the legal documents to back up the claim and secondly, the monetary documents for the transfer. I will provide all the necessary legal documents that will back you up as the bona fide beneficiary of my late client, all I need from you is to cooperate with me and be honest in this arrangement and after a successfully claim has been made, the bank will transfer the total fund into the account provided by you as the beneficiary account after which we will share the total fund as follows; (1) I will take 60% of the total amount. (2) You will take the remaining 40% of the fund. (3) In case there is any tax applicable when the fund is transferred to you, we will settle the tax from the total amount before splitting it according to the above sharing formula.”

He asked for my home address and a telephone number, but no money. I was intrigued by his unhurried pace as a con artist. Sending any personal information was unadvisable under any circumstances. But my post office box was already available on the Internet.

In silence, I pondered… how much of a story could develop from Mr. Bhag’s proposal?

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