Two British attorneys have won a multimillion-dollar tussle with Brunei’s Prince Jefri Bolkiah after a trial that provided a glimpse into the prince’s jet-set lifestyle as a member of one of the world’s richest royal families.
Husband-and-wife legal team Faith Zaman Derbyshire and Thomas Derbyshire could come away with more than £13 million after the jury verdict in a New York court, although the prince’s side plans to challenge the findings.
Although it became a tabloid staple largely because of some sexually explicit statues the jury never got to see, the case was mainly a dispute over competing claims in an attorney-client relationship gone bad – with a client who happens to be an ultra-rich prince long locked in a spectacular royal family feud.
The prince said the Derbyshires abused his trust to steal from him in various schemes. They said he underpaid them and had given his permission for everything they did. Jefri had hired them partly to help him fight efforts by his sultan brother’s government to get him to surrender some of his assets after he was accused of embezzlement.
“For us, yes, this is huge vindication by real people,” a tearful Faith Derbyshire said after hugging her lawyers and even jurors outside the courtroom. “We’re not the sort of people like Jefri.”
The prince, who is in his 50s, was not in court for the verdict, though he had been a steady presence and testified during the five-week trial. Officials at one of his properties, the New York Palace Hotel – where the Derbyshires were accused of helping themselves to a generous management deal and benefits – expressed disappointment at the verdict.
“We continue to believe that based on the facts presented, the hotel has been a victim of a crude fraud scheme, and we are confident that the verdict will be overturned on appeal,” the hotel and its ownership company said in a statement.
The Derbyshires, however, portrayed themselves as collateral damage – “roadkill”, Faith Derbyshire said – in the rocky legal life of an imperious prince.
Jefri is the youngest brother of Sultan Hassanal Bolkiah, the supreme ruler of oil-rich Brunei. The tiny country is on the island of Borneo in south-east Asia. The prince is known for living lavishly. He once kept a stable of more than 600 properties and 2,000 cars, according to court documents. A 2001 auction of some of his possessions featured gold-plated hot tubs and gilded toilet-paper holders.
He hired the Derbyshires in 2004 to help, giving them expansive power in his legal and business affairs.