News & Opinion


British legal couple awarded £13m in feud with Brunei’s playboy Prince

The Times

December 17, 2010


Two British lawyers have won a multi- million-dollar court battle with Prince Jefri Bolikah, the playboy brother of the Sultan of Brunei.

Thomas Derbyshire and Faith Zaman Derbyshire, a husband-and-wife legal team, could be awarded about $21 million (£13.4 million) after a New York jury ruled in their favour in a case that shone a scandalous light on the feuding within one of the world’s richest families, as well as revealing Prince Jefri’s collection of sexually explicit statues of himself and his fiancée.

The Prince’s lawyers claimed that the couple had “betrayed [him] at a time when he needed them most”. The couple claimed that the Prince, who was not in court for the verdict, had underpaid them and given his permission for everything they did.

“For us, yes, this is huge vindication,” said Mrs Derbyshire after the verdict was announced. Her husband said: “Prince Jefri decimated our reputations and characters.”

The Prince’s lawyers, who plan to appeal against the ruling, contended that the Derbyshires, hired in 2004 to oversee his legal and business affairs, had siphoned off more than $5 million of his proceeds from selling a Las Vegas ranch to buy themselves a property in California, awarded themselves a $500-a-month lease on an apartment at the Palace Hotel, in New York, which the Prince owned, and charged beauty treatments and other luxuries to Prince Jefri’s corporate credit cards.

The Derbyshires, whom the Prince fired in 2006, said that the disputed transactions were his way of paying them, and reimbursements for money they had paid for his business expenses and purchases, such as designer watches. Prince Jefri, who is believed to live on an allowance of $300,000 a month, was seeking $7 million damages from the Derbyshires. However, the jurors awarded Thomas Derbyshire $10 million, and his wife $11 million. The jury did side with Prince Jefri on one allegation — that one of Mrs Derbyshire’s brothers had improperly charged expenses to one of the Prince’s credit cards — and awarded him $54,000.

The case was all the more intriguing because the Prince, the youngest brother of Sultan Hassanai Bolikah, the supreme ruler of Brunei, has been fighting with his family for almost a decade after being accused of embezzling billions of dollars from state coffers when he was Finance Minister.

The Prince accused the Derbyshires of defrauding him. He alleged that the couple had sold a property he owned for $11 million to a company that he be- lieved they were connected to. He argued that the property was worth much more. The Derbyshires contended, however, that Prince Jefri instructed them to create the company so that he could sell the property to himself without attracting the attention of the Brunei authorities. The risqué statues, left in the garage, were evidence that he still owned the property, the couple said.

Even after a five-week trial, the case may be far from over. The Palace Hotel said in a statement: “We continue to believe that the hotel has been the victim of a crude fraud scheme, and we are confident that the verdict will be over-turned on appeal.”