PracticeAuditJon Ashworth – the corridors of power

Jon Ashworth - the corridors of power

I've heard of some pretty grim accounting assignments over the years, but several months in the 'dry' kingdom of Brunei must take the cake.

John Talbot and Murdoch McKillop of Arthur Andersen blazed this particular trail in 1998 when Andersen was called in to investigate the finances of Amedeo, a construction and investment entity associated with the Sultan of Brunei’s younger brother Prince Jefri.

Talbot and McKillop shot to prominence handling the administration of Robert Maxwell’s private companies. They later set up shop with Chris Hughes, ex-Coopers & Lybrand, and have just sold out to Kroll (incorporating Buchler Phillips), bringing together some formidable restructuring talent.

Adam Bates of KPMG is another to have experienced the delights of life in a Brunei hotel room.

Seven years on, the Prince Jefri saga has yet to run its course. In 2000, with the accountants’ work complete, the Prince reputedly agreed to return assets to help plug a $2bn (£1.07bn) hole in Amedeo’s finances. Asia’s financial crisis contributed to Amedeo’s problems, but newspapers preferred to focus on the Prince’s appetite for planes, boats and jewellery.

When Amedeo ran into trouble, contractors in Germany had started work on what was perhaps the world’s biggest private yacht – a 160-metre monster, with an estimated $325m price tag.

Work was suspended until 2001, when Sheik Mohammed bin Rashid al-Maktoum, Crown Prince of Dubai, stepped in to buy the vessel, now named Platinum. It comes with its own submarine. Work shifted to the United Arab Emirates and is due to be completed next year.

Jon Ashworth is business features editor at The Times.

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