Hundreds of years old and said to be worth millions, a tiny handwritten copy of the Koran tucks snugly into a jewel-encrusted silver case the size of a matchbox. The miniature treasure is hidden in a safety deposit box, the subject of a feud involving a group of enterprising businessmen, a former KGB agent and one of the world's richest and most powerful men, the Sultan of Brunei. The unlikely venue of the New South Wales Supreme Court in Sydney is likely to host the next chapter in an extraordinary tale that began halfway around the world in Moscow. Michael McGurk and David Rahme had travelled to Russia from their base in Australia to acquire the distribution rights to what was once top secret technology developed by the Soviet military. They had high hopes that 'thermoelectric cells' used to cool and heat space rockets could be adapted to replace air conditioning in cars. But it was an introduction to a former KGB officer that led to solicitors being instructed last week to lodge a writ against the sultan, his private secretary and two other men. The agent was touting several books, including the hexagonal leather-bound Koran that sparked the entrepreneurs' attention. Expert analysis later dated the fragile book measuring just 7cm in diameter to the 16th or 17th century, and intricate gold markings suggested it was made for a wealthy person, or even royalty, as a sacred object of blessing. The businessmen agreed to take the book back to Australia, where 'word of mouth' efforts began to attract bidders. Mr Rahme said a list of potential buyers was drawn up, including Arab sheikhs attending major Australian horse races, and Muammar Gaddafi's son, Al-Saadi, who toured with the Libyan soccer team. The men said they had several interested buyers, but decided to focus on a group they believed represented the oil-rich state's 29th sultan, Hassanal Bolkiah, who allegedly wanted the book as a gift for his new wife. Several visits to Brunei and Singapore followed, where the men said they dealt with the sultan's private secretary, Pehin Nawawi, Nawawi's godson, Sunny Chai, and the state's transport and communications director, Pangerang Yakub Othman. Mr McGurk also twice personally visited the Royal Palace, and the businessmen said they were told to open a Citibank account in Singapore to smooth an agreed US$8 million fee. 'We were told that was the bank the sultan used for all his transactions,' said Mr Rahme. But despite believing a deal had been struck, payment was not made and last week a statement of claim was drawn up on behalf of the businessmen's company, Garsec, suing for breach of contract. They allege the sultan's private secretary and his two colleagues negotiated a 30 per cent commission from the sale. They said the legal action was a last resort following months of trying to resolve the matter. Mr Rahme believes the sultan may have been unaware of the negotiations. 'As it turns out, we strongly suspect the Sultan of Brunei had no idea that any of this was happening,' he said. Attempts to contact the aides were unsuccessful, but in letters to Mr McGurk's legal team, lawyers for the sultan have rejected all of the claims. 'Even if the allegations are accepted at face value [and they are not], they do not disclose any bona fide cause of action against our client,' said Davinder Singh, chief executive officer at Drew and Napier, a leading Singapore law firm. The court action comes after the sultan rewrote his homeland's constitution, which gave him the same legally untouchable status as the Pope. That step was taken during a long-standing legal wrangle with his exiled playboy brother, Prince Jefri Bolkiah, who has been ordered to surrender billions of dollars worth of assets allegedly acquired while he headed the Brunei Investment Agency. The Sydney group believes its case has parallels with another legal stoush last year in which a British businessman sued a cousin and sister-in-law of the sultan over a failed attempt to launch a popular US coffee chain in Britain. A court in the British Virgin Islands awarded Mark Burby #50 million ($715 million) compensation after he successfully argued they agreed to invest in the joint venture, but then repeatedly reneged on promises to hand over the funds. The Sydney businessmen claim they have been left hundreds of thousands of dollars out of pocket. 'We have lost other potential opportunities. Other potential buyers have now scattered,' said Mr Rahme. 'The Russian people are wanting their money as well. We are being pressured from all angles.' Mr Rahme and another investor, Hugh Millikin, have since resigned as directors of Garsec.