Will the Prince turn Pauper? Prince Jefri Bolkiah of Brunei "They want me to give it all back,"
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,"
But much of the BIA's money went to Prince Jefri. According to court documents, the prince spent $475 million on Rolls Royce cars, $78 million at Italian sports-car company Pininfarina SpA, and $900 million at British jeweler Asprey. He liked Asprey so much that in 1995 he bought the company, for $385 million. A firm owned by Prince Jefri paid $202 million for the Helmsley Palace hotel in 1993, using BIA funds.
The Bruneian royal aircraft fleet -- split between the Sultan and Prince Jefri -- contained 10 jets, including a Boeing 747 and an Airbus A-340, according to 1996 insurance documents. A 45-page list of individual recipients shows that scores of people benefited from Prince Jefri's generosity, from ministers to royal relatives to servants. One of Prince Jefri's fathers-in-law received $23 million in BIA funds; his badminton coach and acupuncturist each were paid $1.8 million.
Prince Jefri also amassed a world-class art collection. Under his tenure, the BIA paid $24 million for a Manet and $20.5 million for a Renoir, according to records filed in British court. The prince's favorite, though, was Edgar Degas: "I like the brilliant color and heavy stroke," he says. He bought at least 21 paintings by the French Impressionist artist, according to court documents.
Prince Jefri seems bewildered by the accusation that he misspent $14.8 billion. "It's not that easy to hide," he says. "I keep asking the lawyers, 'Where did it go?'"
Some of the Rolls Royce cars, he says, were used as a kind of "transport pool" for the 20-odd royal guest houses in Brunei. "We'd provide our guests with a car and a backup car, so they didn't have to rent from anybody."
The prince says his brother the Sultan was aware of much of the spending. For example, Prince Jefri says he spent several years building himself a sprawling beachfront palace in Brunei, with a sports complex. "He knew it was built," the prince says. "My civil list [government allowance] is only $20,000 U.S. per month. You can't build a house for that."
Prince Jefri says the Sultan would sometimes come over to his palace after one of their frequent badminton matches, and admire a newly-bought Picasso or Degas on the wall. "He'd say, 'Nice painting. Could you transfer this today?" to the Sultan's own palace -- a 1,788 room edifice that covers 49 acres.
Of course there was the Harem, in which he paid $120k for Miss USA six week attendances.