Meet the "Rela-Thieves": Prince Jefri of Brunei

♠ Posted by Emmanuel in at 3/01/2008 04:58:00 PM

Nepotism and accusations of misappropriated wealth--what else is new? Prince Jefri of Brunei, however, has literally set the gold standard in making the most of Brunei's state coffers. But don't take it from me: the Sultan of Brunei, Hassanal Bolkiah, has been waging internecine conflict with his younger brother Jefri in venues across the world to recover Jefri's largess after he fell out of favor with the ruler of the oil-rich state. What's a billionaire who wants to party all the time to do when the cash spigot is closed off by big brother? From the Wall Street Journal:

Prince Jefri Bolkiah of Brunei once was one of the wealthiest men in the world. Now he's worried he may soon be homeless and forced into bankruptcy.

"They want me to give it all back," he says, flanked by giant Dutch landscape paintings and billowing gold drapery in the cavernous living room of his London villa, where he resides with one of his three wives and two of his 18 children. "We don't know where we are going to live."

The 53-year-old younger brother of the Sultan of Brunei, Prince Jefri is on the losing end of one of the world's most colorful family feuds. It started a decade ago, when the prince was stripped of his government roles and later accused by Brunei authorities of misappropriating $14.8 billion of the royal treasury's money.

He denies that, but there's no doubt much had been expended on Prince Jefri's famously sybaritic lifestyle. The jet-setting prince bought mansions around the world, amassed a fleet of 1,700 luxury cars and acquired a 180-foot yacht that he named using a slang word for female breasts.

The Sultan since then has waged a legal siege on three continents to reclaim Prince Jefri's considerable riches. The Sultan scored a decisive victory late last year, when Britain's Privy Council -- which hears final legal appeals from Brunei, a former British protectorate -- ruled that the prince needed to abide by a 2000 agreement to return nearly all his remaining holdings.

On Tuesday, Prince Jefri effectively lost control of his most valuable remaining asset, the New York Palace Hotel, an opulent 55-story property formerly known as the Helmsley Palace. The Brunei government took ownership of the hotel following a New York court order. But the judge has restricted it from selling the property pending the outcome of further proceedings and the prince is disputing the change in control.

"Brothers should get along with each other," the New York judge, Justice Helen Freedman, admonished the lawyers for the warring royals at a recent hearing. Justice Freedman jokingly threatened to refer the case to a domestic-violence court.