On the Block: A Bad Boy's Toys
For six days 1,000 people filed into a converted factory in Jerudong, Brunei—a tiny, oil-rich country in southeast Asia—to bid on 10,000 items once owned by Jefri, 50, the disgraced younger brother of Brunei's ruling Sultan Hassanal, 55. In the end the auction raised $7.8 million. That's a drop in the diamond-studded bucket, considering the roughly $600 million in debt rung up during the past decade by Jefri, a profligate spender with such gaudy taste he made Donald Trump look like an Amish innkeeper. "Jefri treated the nation's wealth as his own private piggy bank," says a source close to Brunei's royal family. "The auction was part of a process of rehabilitating and punishing him."
And what a naughty boy he had been. As Brunei's finance minister, he had treated himself to hundreds of cars, 17 airplanes and several yachts, spending up to $750,000 a day for 10 years and dragging the nation's net worth down by nearly $20 billion (the sultan has since put him on a $200,000 monthly allowance). Jefri had also spent millions whisking models and beauty queens to Brunei, a practice that would lead 1992 Miss USA Shannon Marketic to sue him in a California court for kidnapping and mail fraud, claiming he had lured her with modeling work and then tried to make her a sex slave. (The prince cited his sovereign immunity, and the case was thrown out of court.) "It was like a strange, crazy dream," says Marketic, 30, who now works in Texas as a motivational speaker and writer. "I've never seen a world like that one."
Neither had many of the bidders at the auction. "It was wild," says Isabelle Miaja, an interior designer who, with a client, paid $889 for a gold-accented stool. "But it was also kind of sad. The venue made it seem like things had no value." Indeed, the auction sometimes had the feel of a giant flea market, with odd personal items mixed in with cumbersome industrial lots: a dry-cleaning system, bowling-alley machines and slabs of raw marble, much of it overstock from Jefri's planned luxury hotel, Jerudong Park, now renamed the Empire (he still owns the Hotel Bel-Air in Los Angeles and the Palace in New York City, among other top-drawer holdings). "It was all very exciting," says Jacob Mathew, 32, a Bruneian business manager who paid $122 for a set of Asprey goblets and tumblers. "There was something for everyone."
Except, that is, for the bulk of the 300 creditors still owed big bucks by Prince Jefri. They plan to sue for the rest of the loot. That case, however, will surely not match the spectacle of last month's auction. "I've never seen a crowd as fired up," says Andrew Duckworth, a partner at the London-based Smith Hodgkinson, which handled the auction. "This one I'll never forget."
Nina Biddle in London, Karen Emmons in Bangkok, Bill Mellor in Brunei and John Hannah in Los Angeles