- Kleptocracy is as old as government. Exotic car broker
Michael Sheehan discovered an amazing case nine years ago when he was invited
to purchase rare Ferraris and McLaren F1s from a Brunei collection. He
writes about it in the current issue of Sports Car Market.
- Brunei is a family-owned oil Sultanate of 400,000 people
located on the island of Borneo in southeast Asia. A brother of the sultan
was finance minister until 1997, when the Asian financial crisis hit Brunei.
The Arthur Anderson accounting firm was called in to audit the books. The
accountants found that between 1983 and 1998 $40 billion had disappeared
and that the finance minister himself had personally spent $14.8 billion.
- The finance minister had a collection of 2,500 exotic
cars, 500 properties, five yachts, and nine world-class aircraft. He had
managed to spend $900,000,000 in the London jeweler Asprey, apparently
guaranteeing the old age retirements of a number of attractive women who
consort with kleptocrats.
- The finance minister was allowed to keep 500 of the cars,
but he had to turn in the rest of his loot--to no avail as we shall see.
- Sheehan went to Brunei to view the cars. From his general
description of the collection, I estimate that the finance minister had
paid six figures for the least expensive car in the collection. Many cost
much more. McLaren F1s cost $1,000,000 new. They are more valuable now.
In October 2008 one sold at a London auction for $4,100,000. Many of the
cars were custom built. Some of the high speed Ferraris "were coated
in radar-absorbent matt-black coatings and fitted with infrared cameras
for night driving." Easily more than one billion dollars of Brunei's
oil revenues had found their way into the finance minister's car collection.
- Sheehan reports that the cars were stored in about 12
buildings "surrounded by a high wall topped with razor wire and with
a bomb-proof front gate" and patrolled by "armed Gurkhas with
very serious German shepherds." The security was for naught, because
"the air conditioning was off, but the tropical sun was not."
Years of heat and humidity had destroyed the cars. The storage facilities
had become a car tomb.
- Sheehan concluded that most of the cars were in such
a state of ruin that only a few of the cars had sufficiently high inherent
values to support commercially viable restorations. The best use of the
rest, Sheehan decided, would be to turn them into an artificial ocean reef.
- The careless waste is shocking and even more so to car
buffs who consider many of the ruined cars to be artistic masterpieces.
This is the kind of opulent waste that we associate with family-owned
countries. But before we Americans start feeling superior, consider that
the U.S. government puts the Brunei finance minister to shame.
- On January 29, 2002, CBS Evening News reported that the
Pentagon had lost track of $2.3 trillion, yes, $2,300 billion. Defense
Secretary Rumsfeld admitted, "According to some estimates we cannot
track $2.3 trillion in transactions." "We know it is gone,"
said Jim Minnery of the Defense Finance and Accounting Service, "but
we don't know what they spent it on."
- Reported thefts from Iraq and Afghanistan reconstruction
aid rival Brunei's missing billions. Pallets of cash stacked high have
been flown out of Afghanistan in plain view. The stories of corruption
and missing funds are so numerous that they are no longer reported.
- The U.S. Congress, at President Obama's request, recently
passed the largest military spending bill of all time in behalf of the
share prices of the military/security complex, while many of the 50 states
teeter on bankruptcy and default on pensions and municipal bonds and slash
education, medical, and other services. For "our" government
in Washington, it is a no-brainer that the profits of the military-security
complex take every precedence over every need of the American people.
- If the Brunei finance minister's billion dollar car collection
becomes an artificial reef, it will foster marine life. In contrast, Dick
Cheney seriously damaged, perhaps for many years to come, the Gulf of Mexico,
because Cheney believed a few extra bucks for the oil companies were more
important than safety standards. The missing safety standards have cost
British Petroleum $20 billion in clean up and restitution costs.
- U.S. taxpayers are paying the Department of Homeland
- $56,336,000,000 this year to porno-scan and grope them
and otherwise invade their privacy, while millions of Americans are foreclosed
out of their homes.
- How are the priorities of the US. government superior
to those of the Brunei finance minister? When it comes to waste and corruption,
lies and deception, the U.S. government has no equal.