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Brunei saves face in pounds 180m deal

THE MOST expensive civil action in British legal history - between Prince Jefri of Brunei and two of his closest emissaries - was settled out of court amid speculation that the sultan had ordered his brother to put an end to all his court cases around the world.

A spokesman for the prince dismissed the idea of any intervention by the sultan. But it was confirmed that the prince and the Manoukian brothers, who were suing each other for claims totalling pounds 180m, had reached an "amicable agreement" after negotiations between their lawyers in a London hotel.

The details are confidential but a source close to the case said yesterday that Prince Jefri had ordered his lawyers to find a settlement. It is believed that both sides will share costs of around pounds 10m.

Two weeks ago, a United States law suit filed by Shannon Marketic, a former Miss USA, who claimed that she was held captive in a Brunei palace for use as a "sex slave", was struck out. She has appealed and a similar case is being brought by two women in Hawaii.

The latest deal, before any evidence was heard from Prince Jefri, has saved the youngest brother of the Sultan of Brunei from embarrassing cross-examination over his extravagant lifestyle, which included allegations of using prostitutes, gambling and "spending unimaginable sums of money".

Giving evidence, Bob Manoukian, who with his brother, Rafi, was suing the prince for pounds 80m claiming he reneged on two business deals, told the court that Prince Jefri kept up to 40 prostitutes at a time at the Dorchester Hotel in the West End of London. The prince, a Muslim who has four wives and three children, was said to have built a string of palaces in his country, many of which were used for "his sex parties", the Manoukians alleged.

The court was also told that he spend millions of pounds on expensive objets d'art, including a set of diamond-encrusted erotic watches.

Based in London, the Armenian-born brothers claimed that Prince Jefri reneged on a pounds 55m deal to buy and operate the pounds 190m Adelphi office building in central London and a pounds 25m verbal agreement to refurbish part of the former Playboy Club. The prince counter-sued for an estimated pounds 100m, claiming that Rafi Manoukian channelled unreasonable profits out of him through an intricate web of companies based in Liechtenstein.

The case provided a glimpse into the lifestyle of the notoriously secretive Brunei royal family and, had a settlement not been reached, was likely to reveal many more claims about Prince Jefri's "appetite for extravagance and self indulgence".

Even as a schoolboy the prince, 44, had a love of ostentation. A pupil at King Alfred's, London, he would arrive every morning in a black Mercedes flanked by bodyguards. The school, which costs around pounds 2,300 a term, was an unlikely choice for the prince, however. There are no uniforms and children are encouraged to call staff by their first names. A brochure says that "civilised and relaxed behaviour is encouraged".

The prince is well known for driving through Brunei in a black Porsche with two motorcycle outriders. He has a fleet of 600 cars and a 180ft yacht called Tits. His first love is polo, a game he is reputed to play superbly, and last year he spent pounds 3.5m to entice the world's best polo family, the Heguys of Argentina, to play in Brunei for a year.

In the past he has flown the Chelsea football squad to Brunei to play against the national team, and persuaded Rod Stewart, Elton John and MC Hammer to perform at royal family get-togethers. But despite his extravagance, he is a popular figure in the sultanate where he arranged for the citizens to receive BBC television, the CNN network, and the London radio station Capital by satellite.

He recently bought Asprey, the Queen's jewellers, for pounds 244m and was described in court as a "one man walking market".

However, the family's wealth is new. Despite being one of the oldest Malay ruling families, they lived in a modest house on stilts until the discovery of oil and gas fields in the late Sixties. The Sultan is now said to be worth an estimated pounds 20bn.

The case afforded a brief glimpse into the lives of the richest family in the world but, having reached a deal, it is unlikely that they will allow their private affairs to be broadcast so widely in the future.