Lawyer: Brunei prince was 'betrayed' by his ex-lawyers

  • Business
  • Wednesday, 15 Dec 2010

NEW YORK: Brunei's Prince Jefri Bolkiah was exploited by two thieving British attorneys who took advantage of his trust and vulnerability as he faced the legal "fight of his life," one of his lawyers said Tuesday in summing up his side of a multimillion-dollar dispute.

The civil trial, an outgrowth of the flamboyant prince's years of court clashes with his own homeland's government, has played out for more than a month in a New York court.

Jurors are likely to start deliberating Wednesday in the case, which has provided a peek at the globe-trotting lifestyle of a member of one of the world's wealthiest royal families.

Jefri says his ex-lawyers, husband-and-wife team Faith Zaman Derbyshire and Thomas Derbyshire, stole at least US$7 million from him by abusing the expansive powers he gave them to handle his legal and business affairs. They say he authorized the transactions he says were thefts and still owes them about US$12 million in fees.

"Prince Jefri gave Zaman and Derbyshire total control, and the evidence shows he was taken advantage of," one of the prince's lawyers, Geoffrey S. Stewart, told jurors Tuesday.

"It is a simple, and it is a sad, fact of this case that the (Derbyshires) betrayed Prince Jefri at a time when he needed them most."

Jefri is the youngest brother of Sultan Hassanal Bolkiah, the supreme ruler of oil-rich Brunei. The prince is an extravagant figure, once keeping a stable of more than 600 properties and 2,000 cars, according to court documents.

Also among his possessions: A set of sexually explicit, life-sized, custom-made statues once kept at an estate on New York's Long Island. The sculptures added a sensational twist to the case before a judge barred any mention of them during the trial.

Jefri has spent much of the past decade vying to hang onto various assets after being accused of embezzling nearly $16 billion from Brunei's state coffers while serving as finance minister of the tiny country on the island of Borneo.

While denying any wrongdoing, Jefri agreed in 2000 to repay money to Brunei's investment arm. But he and his brother's government jousted for years over his reluctance to turn over such pricey assets as the New York Palace hotel and the Hotel Bel Air in Los Angeles. He hired the Derbyshires in 2004 to help.

"Prince Jefri was facing the fight of his life," Stewart said in his closing argument. "Prince Jefri stood to lose everything he had."

But instead of protecting his money, the Derbyshires helped themselves to it, the prince's camp says.

Among the alleged rip-offs: siphoning off more than $5 million of the prince's proceeds from selling a Las Vegas ranch to buy themselves property in Manhattan Beach, California; enlisting one of Zaman's brothers in a self-dealing scheme to profit from the New York Palace's purchase of plasma televisions; awarding themselves a $500-a-month lease on an apartment worth far more at the hotel; and charging motorcycle accessories and other personal expenses to Jefri's corporate credit cards.

The Derbyshires say the challenged transactions were the prince's way of paying them, reimbursements for money they fronted to pay his business expenses or purchases he asked them to make - sometimes for such items as designer watches for his family.

The prince's side is "throwing up smoke ... so that they can take the compensation duly owed to Mr. and Mrs. Derbyshire," one of their lawyers, Peder Garske, told jurors in his summation Monday.

The prince fired the two in 2006 and later sued them. - AP

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