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Thursday, September 17, 1998 Published at 15:36 GMT 16:36 UK


World: Asia-Pacific

Royal riches and family embarrassment

Pictures of Brunei's crown prince decorated the roadsides during his recent inauguration

The Queen is visiting one of the world's wealthiest royal families - but it is also one which is racked by embarrassing financial scandal.

The Sultan of Brunei has a vast fortune, which includes for example 350 Rolls Royce cars.

There are also 200 polo ponies in climatised stables, two Boeings, an Airbus, six smaller planes and two helicopters.


[ image: The Sultan moved quickly to remove his brother from official positions]
The Sultan moved quickly to remove his brother from official positions
When the family entertains, they call on the likes of Michael Jackson, Whitney Houston and Celine Dionne to sing a song or two for their guests.

Never short of a few pennies for a rainy day, the Sultan was reported in Australian newspapers as having gone on a $2.9bn spending spree in March this year.

He was said to have bought, amongst other things, one of the futuristic Petronas Twin Towers in Kuala Lumpur.

Family scandal

But not all is well in the royal family. The sultan's youngest brother, Prince Jefri, has disappeared - as has several billion pounds.


[ image: Prince Jefri was the Sultan's polo partner and played with Prince Charles]
Prince Jefri was the Sultan's polo partner and played with Prince Charles
Prince Jefri, 43, is alleged to have squandered billions of dollars in bad business deals and is thought to be living in self-imposed exile somewhere in Europe.

Brunei is reeling from a crisis involving the collapse of its largest private company, telecommunications conglomerate Amedeo, owned by Prince Jefri, which collapsed with losses estimated at $16bn.

The sultan moved quickly to strip his brother of control of the company and his position as chief of the Brunei Investment Agency, which is responsible for overseas investments.

The Prince has also been involved in several other scandals.

'Profligate Prince'

Stories of Prince Jefri's wild orgies and extravagances have dented the sultan's attempts to portray a clean Islamic image of the family that has ruled Brunei for four centuries.


[ image: The Sultan's family were entertained by Michael Jackson at a private function]
The Sultan's family were entertained by Michael Jackson at a private function
But Prince Jefri has charged that he is the victim of a plot by Muslim conservatives who have gained an "unhealthy influence" over the sultan, a claim rejected by government officials.

His lavish lifestyle - from luxury yachts to polo teams - was not the flamboyant image the kingdom wanted to portray in a time of financial belt-tightening.

Brits pull out

The Sultan will not want to draw attention to the fact that almost 2,000 Britons, the bulk of the ex-pat work force in the country, are said to have left the country.


[ image: The crown prince developing a taste for helicptors in his earlier years]
The crown prince developing a taste for helicptors in his earlier years
They have been replaced by an army of accountants from British contractors who are thought to be owed hundreds of thousands of pounds.

Brunei has been hit by Asia's economic crisis and a fall into world price of oil.

The country's oil reserves have begun to dry up and there are worries about how will the country cope when the oil has gone.

Asked if there was a rift in the royal family, the Sultan's brother, Prince Mohamed, said: "If there has been any wrong-doing, those responsible will be held accountable."





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