Monday, February 20, 2017
The Myanmar Times
The Myanmar Times

Of Brunei, Prince Jefri, Tits and Trump

So the new year is upon us and as I often ask myself at such times: Does the sun still shine on the righteous?

The Sultan of Brunei (right) gestures to a guest as he sits with his wife during a ceremony before the wedding of Sarah Salleh and Crown Prince Muhtadee Billah Bolkiah in 2004. Photo: EPAThe Sultan of Brunei (right) gestures to a guest as he sits with his wife during a ceremony before the wedding of Sarah Salleh and Crown Prince Muhtadee Billah Bolkiah in 2004. Photo: EPA

It does, of course, and if proof is needed just look at Brunei, the tiny oil-rich sultanate on the northwest tip of Borneo, which is the most righteous place in the whole region.

Its leaders do not chastise other nations, nor use foul language, nor boast of their toughness in expunging crime and other social problems – for there are very few of those in Brunei anyway.

And not without reason, for even minor infractions result in heavy fines and even jail sentences, while unrighteous acts like drunkenness, adultery and sodomy can warrant amputation of limbs and stoning to death.

As a result, the Muslim-majority sultanate is a peaceful spot, blessed with a pleasant climate, excellent roads and golf courses and yacht clubs, and naturally, lots and lots of mosques.

Its small population of just over 400,000 seek little more than to remain in their current state of harmony and well-being under the benevolent rule of their monarch, Sultan Hassanal Bolkiah.

He and his younger brother Prince Jefri, their multiple wives and partners and other family members epitomise righteousness, as was evident when, just a year ago this week, they banned Christmas.

More precisely, Hassanal’s Religious Affairs Department issued a decree outlawing the public celebration of Christmas and sent officials to raid teashops and other spots that had put up holiday decorations.

As a result, no unrighteous behaviour disturbed Brunei’s tranquility over the past fortnight and no drunken celebrants engaged in bestial acts or caused carnage on the highways.

It was a salutary lesson to authorities across the region who often kowtow to hardline fundamentalists who want everyone to conform to their medieval strictures.

The extermination of Christmasy effusions, however, was not the only noteworthy event to have occurred in Brunei over the past couple of months.

Another institution that disappeared was the punchy Brunei Times, which was launched only a decade ago as a rival to the more established Borneo Bulletin, which thankfully remains alive for the moment.

The Times announced it no longer had “sustainable resources to continue its media and publication operations.” In other words, it went bust and its one hundred plus staffers were laid off.

Since it had never turned much of a profit, many wondered if that was the real reason. After all, it was breaking good stories and its online version was doing quite well.

Scoopy news, however, can threaten the serenity of a righteous society and many suspect the paper’s shutdown, rather like Christmas, was ordered by Hassanal’s palace guard.

The guilty article was an October 26 story reporting that Saudi Arabia would impose more stringent visa fees on Bruneian pilgrims travelling to Mecca for the Haj.

That disharmony-inducing revelation upset Hassanal’s men, who wanted to announce it themselves after suitable official explanations, so their rancour was vented and the paper went the way of Santa Claus.

In doing so, it had no opportunity to report last month’s bombshell news about Prince Jefri, who is to Brunei what the Duke of Windsor was to British royalty or what Rasputin was to the Czars of Russia.

This being a family newspaper, Jefri’s more egregious episodes must be suppressed, but other prestigious publications from The New York Times to The Economist did reveal the most tawdry aspects.

Briefly, when he was finance minister in the late 1990s, Jefri siphoned off more than US$15 billion from the Brunei Investment Agency and used the dosh to go on a breathtaking spending spree.

He bought a fleet of luxury cars, nine aircraft – including a private Boeing 747 – a luxury yacht called “Tits” with lifeboats named Nipple 1 and Nipple 2, paintings by Renoir, Manet and Degas, and more than 500 properties.

As The Myanmar Times can now reveal, much of that real estate was acquired in partnership with another righteous man, one named Donald J Trump, who will soon be sworn in as president of the United States.

Isn’t that fascinating! It is the kind of scoopy news The Brunei Times would have loved to publish had it not been eradicated; although how dodgy the revelation may be for Jefri – and for Trump – is not yet clear.

But it is not the only new controversy to envelop Jefri. Last month, the Panama Papers, a huge database leaked from an offshore law firm in 2015, revealed that he was a client of Coutts, a famous British bank.

Coutts, whose most illustrious customer is Queen Elizabeth II, now stands accused of helping Jefri launder all those billions he misappropriated from Brunei’s state institutions.

Of course, Jefri, despite his financial indiscretions and sexual profligacy, is a righteous man and thus has been forgiven by his brother Hassanal.

After all, it is not Jefri’s fault that his good looks and immense wealth make women fawn over him and cause them to flee the decadent, polluted ways of the West for the pristine calm of Brunei.

Admittedly, among those who came to loll on the deck of Tits and to play the imperial purple oboe, there were several who said they had been lured to Brunei against their wishes.

A former Miss USA, Shannon Marketic, for example, launched legal action against the Bolkiahs, claiming that she and others ended up as sex slaves for Jefri and his chums.

Her case was dismissed when the US judge ruled that Jefri had diplomatic immunity, but we must remember that you cannot teach an old dog new tricks and hence more stunning revelations are likely.

So never say Brunei is boring or staid. No, it is a place where the sun continues to shine on the righteous.