Sunday, September 27, 2009

:: BIA vs Prince Jefri Bolkiah ?

BIA's case against Prince Jefri 'likely resolved this year'
By Ignatius Stephen
His Royal Highness Prince Jefri Bolkiah's disagreement with the Brunei Investment Agency (BIA) over billions of dollars may be over by the end of the year, according to a report in the Wall Street Journal yesterday.

The newspaper quoted Prince Jefri's lawyers in London as saying that major issues could be resolved by the end of the year.

The report by its London correspondent spoke about Prince Jefri's lawyers as being "cautiously optimistic".

"It's fair to say there's a much more constructive relationship between the parties," the newspaper said citing David Sandy, a London lawyer at Simmons & Simmons who represents Prince Jefri.

He added that there are "negotiations going on between the (Brunei government) and Prince Jefri that will resolve this whole long-running saga. We are cautiously optimistic."

As for Prince Jefri's concerns that he could be charged with treason, Mr Sandy said: "Any concerns he may have had along those lines have pretty much evaporated."

Mr Sandy said, however, that there is no formal agreement between the Prince and the Brunei government, but he said he is optimistic that the major issues could be resolved by the end of the year.

Prince Jefri Bolkiah was accused more than a decade ago of misappropriating US$14.8 billion from the BIA.

The news report said that he was stripped of his title as finance minister and has spent most of the intervening years in exile, waging a protracted - and losing - legal battle with the Brunei government over control of his remaining assets. Prince Jefri has consistently denied misappropriating any money.

"Prince Jefri, 55, who last year expressed fear that he could be charged with treason if he went back to Brunei, has returned home from a five-year exile," the report said.

"On Wednesday, the Borneo Bulletin published a photo of Prince Jefri attending prayers with the Sultan and other family members at a local mosque," the report said.

Mr Lindsay Marr, a London-based attorney for the Brunei government, confirmed that Prince Jefri had returned but declined further comment, saying, "I'm not in a position to say anything." He called Prince Jefri's previously claimed fears about a return to Brunei "posturing".

Court records from the lengthy legal battle between Prince Jefri and Brunei government revealed a spending spree of eye-popping proportions.

Prince Jefri was out of legal options after losing an appeal to Britain's Privy Council in 2007, which ruled that he must abide by his agreement in 2000 to return nearly all of his holdings to the Brunei government.

Following that ruling, the government's lawyers successfully moved to seize most of Prince Jefri's remaining assets, including the New York Palace Hotel.

Prince Jefri has said he delayed turning over assets because he wasn't sure the Brunei government would live up to its end of the 2000 settlement, under which he would be allowed to keep two residences in Brunei and other properties.

In mid-2008, a British judge issued an arrest warrant for Prince Jefri after he fled London rather than attend a court hearing to determine if he should be jailed for contempt.

The hearing rose from a legal action by the Brunei Investment Agency, which accused the Prince of hiding some of his assets and providing false evidence to the court.

Mr Sandy said the arrest warrant is still pending but is valid only in the UK.

Geoffrey Stewart, a US attorney for Prince Jefri at Jones Day, said litigation between the Prince and the Brunei government is ending chiefly because his client is out of legal appeals and tax issues that were slowing the transfers of assets have been resolved. But, he said, "I am not aware of any reconciliation."

Prince Jefri is due to be in New York at the end of September for a deposition related to a legal dispute with two of his former lawyers, according to the transcript of a recent hearing in the case. In that matter, Prince Jefri and the Brunei government are on the same side, the report added.