Title-obsessed Malaysians are falling for offers of traditional titles and awards from an unrecognised - and possibly fictitious - Sultanate of Mindanao in the Philippines.
Awards carrying titles of Datuk Seri, Datuk Paduka and Datuk, supposedly from Sultan Kudarat, are being offered to people willing to pay between equivalents of $17,000 and $71,000, an investigation by The Star newspaper has revealed.
These are traditional Malaysian awards akin to the British knighthood, conferred by sultans of various states who are also the constitutional heads. Bollywood actor Shah Rukh Khan, extremely popular among Malaysian cinegoers, was made a Datuk by the Sultan of Malacca earlier this year.
The newspaper carried out its probe after eight years. It had then exposed a scam by a "Sultan of Mindanao" conferring awards to Malaysian businessmen who then took out huge congratulatory advertisements in newspapers.
This time around, forms to apply for "awards from Sultan Kudarat" are available from an "agent" of The Royal Mindanao Malaysian Friendship Society operating here.
There are various categories of titles akin to the Malaysian ones. Each package includes a medal, letter of appointment, identification card, badge for the car and a sash.
Also promised are investiture ceremonies which are held in a "swanky hotel", with the awards being conferred by a Sultan Pax S. Mangudadatu, Al Haj, the newspaper said.
The Malaysian "agent" claimed that some 2,000 Malaysians had been conferred such awards. The newspaper's investigations show that there may not be such a thing as the "Sultanate of Sultan Kudarat".
"Research shows there is no Filipino Muslim sultanate or royal house bearing the name `Sultan Kudarat'." There is a modern-day province of Sultan Kudarat in Mindanao but Filipino provinces do not confer awards or decorations.
Sultan Kudarat province is named after Sultan Muhammad Dipatuan Kudarat, the Sultan of Maguindanao. Maguindanao is a traditional Filipino Muslim sultanate.
Checks also revealed that there is a Pax S. Mangudadatu but he is not the ruler of Sultan Kudarat. He is a member of the Philippine congress for one of two congressional districts in Sultan Kudarat province.
The Philippines does not recognise the titles. When the matter came to light, the Malaysian government said it does not recognise these titles either.