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The fresh Prince of Brunei

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BRUNEI/By Mark Hosenball

The veins of Prince Jefri of Brunei may course with Royal blood and, though depleted by years of lawsuits, his bank accounts probably still hold enough riches to fund an imperial lifestyle. But the brother of the Sultan of Brunei didn’t get much respect from British High Court Judge Sir Peter Smith when, two years ago, Jefri failed to appear in court for a scheduled cross-examination on his tangled legal and financial affairs. (For a special report on Prince Jefri’s legal battles, click here. )

Sir Peter, who gained international attention  as the Judge who wove his own secret message into a ruling he handed down rejecting a literary theft claim filed against “Da Vinci Code” author Dan Brown, showed little deference to Prince Jefri’s royal status when handing down a decision to issue a bench warrant for the prince’s immediate arrest if he sets foot on British soil.

According to a 2007 ruling from Britain’s Privy Council, Jefri served for 15 years from 1983 as chairman of the Brunei Investment Authority (BIA), an agency which holds and manages the principality’s vast oil wealth. Auditors later discovered that during Jefri’s stewardship of the agency, around $40 billion worth of “special transfers” were made from BIA accounts, and that $14.8 million had “been paid to or applied for the benefit of” Prince Jefri, according to the Privy Council.

Following the audit, a battalion of lawyers representing the Sultan and the BIA launched a worldwide treasure hunt to locate and recover assets Jefri allegedly misappropriated. Eventually, Jefri signed a settlement deal with the BIA. But according to the Privy Council, he continued nonetheless to hold onto assets which he ostensibly had agreed to surrender. This led the British Law Lords to accuse Jefri of offering excuses which were “simply incredible,” “devoid of weight” and “hopeless.”