A federal judge ruled Monday that the sultan of Brunei--one of the richest men in the world--cannot be sued for allegedly holding a former Miss USA as a sex slave in his oil-rich nation.
U.S. District Judge Consuelo Marshall found that the sultan is a foreign head of state, and therefore is protected by sovereign immunity from lawsuits filed in the United States.
The grant of immunity came at the suggestion of lawyers for the U.S. State Department, who argued in court documents that the federal government recognizes the sultan as the head of a friendly state.
“Permitting this action to proceed against the sultan of Brunei would be incompatible with the United States’ foreign policy interests,” State Department lawyer Carlotta Wells argued in the documents.
The sultan, whose official name is Haji Hassanal Bolkiah, and his brother, Haji Jefri Bolkiah, were not in court, choosing to let the matter be handled by their lawyer, John K. Van de Kamp, a former Los Angeles County district attorney and state attorney general.
Marshall is expected to rule later on whether Prince Jefri, as he is known, also is protected by sovereign immunity.
The woman’s New York lawyer, David Jaroslawicz, alleged that what happened between her and the sultan’s friends and associates was personal and had little to do with the nation of Brunei’s official business.
Shannon Marketic, 27, a former Miss USA from California, wore black and left the courtroom without comment. Her lawsuit continues against Kaliber Talent Consultants, the Los Angeles agency that allegedly arranged for Marketic’s trip to Brunei, which is on the northern coast of the island of Borneo.
Marketic charged in her complaint that she and six other beauty queens were hired for modeling and promotional work on the tiny tropical sultanate, Brunei Darussalam, which means “Abode of Peace.”
When the models arrived, Marketic alleged, their passports and return airline tickets were confiscated and they were tested for sexually transmitted diseases. She alleged she was held against her will in a palace for 32 days, during which the scantily clad models were forced to attend parties with men who tried to force them to perform sex acts.
The 51-year-old sultan denies the allegations.
Shortly after the lawsuit was filed, legal advisors to the sultan issued a statement quoting Miss USA Brandi Sherwood, who also was on the trip. She said she never met the sultan or his brother, and that her trip to Brunei was uneventful.
Brunei’s royal family said in a statement that it was “pleased that his majesty will not be subjected further to the frivolous and self-serving claim on which this case was based, with the accompanying media coverage that matters like this tend to generate.”
Van de Kamp argued that Prince Jefri, as a member of the royal family and someone in line for the sultan’s gilded throne, should receive the same immunity as his brother.
The sultan and Prince Jefri insist that they never met Marketic, and that she had never been inside the sultan’s $350-million, 1,788-room palace.
“Her groundless case was brought in an attempt to generate publicity and for personal financial gain,” the statement said. “She demeaned herself and sought to damage the reputation of the royal family of Brunei.”