Prince Jefri Bolkiah is the younger brother of the Sultan of Brunei, and he is believed to have blown $14.8 billion on a series of follies including grotesque mansions; enormous collections of sportscars; haremsful of exotic prostitutes kept on standby at home and abroad; fleets of jets; musesumsworth of gaudy gems; private football tutelage from NFL greats for his pampered son; private concerts by Michael Jackson and Whitney Houston (the former in a purpose-built, single-use stadium); and more (and more).
Vanity Fair had Mark Seal cover a New York court battle between Jefri and two of his advisors, whom he alleged bilked him out of a paltry few millions. As Seal explains, the case had wider significance: it was key to a narrative that the prince and the sultan have created about the prince's wastefulness, blaming it on sharp foreigners who bilked him out of his money.
The story goes into eye-glazingly weird lists of the prince's excesses. Reading it, I found myself tuning out, losing the ability to focus on the lists of spectacular waste, only to be brought back to reality by an extravagance so over-the-top that it shocked me out of my stupor. It's a kind of pornography of capitalism, a Southeast Asian version of the Beverly Hillbillies, a proof that oil fortunes demand no thought, no innovation, no sense of shared national destiny: just a hole the ground, surrounded by guns, enriching an elite of oafs and wastrels.
Before the couple left for Brunei, Jefri named Princes Hakeem and Bahar as directors of the New York Palace. According to Zaman and Derbyshire, the big, burly princes are true heirs to Jefri’s life of extravagance. Rod Stewart performed at one of Hakeem’s birthdays, and when Bahar turned nine, the sultan threw a bash at Claridge’s in London, transforming a ballroom into a Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtle headquarters. According to Fortune, when Hakeem wanted to learn football, Jefri imported N.F.L. stars Joe Montana and Herschel Walker to Brunei, at a cost of seven figures each, to teach him the game. Hakeem and his friends showed up in brand-new uniforms, the gargantuan prince weighing 300 pounds, trailed by a valet and guarded by a state security force. Hakeem was not able to catch the ball, so a teammate would hand it to him, and he would then shuffle down the field for an easy touchdown, because no one was allowed to tackle a prince. When Hakeem turned 18, his father gave him $1 billion as a birthday present, according to one of Zaman’s affidavits. Bahar, for his 16th birthday, received $400 million. (Of the money allegedly given to Jefri’s children, Stewart says, “I don’t know any of that to be true.”)