Rant Back

Wednesday, 5 November 2008

A Royal Spree

Reading 'Giving My Two Cents Worth,' I disagree with Md with the Royals being free from scrutiny.

The truth is, their money is what the government gives them, and in a potentially catastrophic circle, the government is the Royals. I don't mind them spending some money here and there. But when it's becoming wasteful then they are essentially wasting the government's money. If it was from their own business I don't care.

In fact I don't care about their personal lives. I don't care if they're gay, if they're polygamous, or if they're all assholes. As long as the nation's money is not all wasted on Rolls Royces and Mariah Carey then what they do with their personal lives is up to them.

Yes, I think HM is a good ruler. I honestly do. But I don't think we'll be lucky next time. A lot of sources say our oil will run out very quickly, and most estimates put it at 50 years.

This is an article someone sent me via e-mail a few years back, and I checked the magazine (it's banned because it's an adult magazine) by asking a friend to bring it over, and yeah, it was there. A lot of it makes sense, and a lot of it is true. But to be put so harshly, or without bias, or without the "our Sultan is richer than yours" pride, it was eye-opening. After that I've researched a bit more, and this is not the only article chronicling the Royals' epic spendings.
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Taken from: FHM (UK), December 2006, Issue 204, The Ultimate Edition, page 128-134
By: Christian Koch

IS THE PARTY OVER FOR THE KING OF BLING?

How do you blow £30 billion in less than 20 years? Ask the Sultan of Brunei: a wayward brother, a randy son and worryingly dry oil wells have shrunk his stash by 75%...

By all accounts, Hassanal Bolkiah was just your average pop music-loving student who was always up for a kick-around. It was 1964 and he made a point of mingling with his fellow classmates in his Singapore secondary school and even went on to enjoy a relatively anonymous stint at Britain’s exclusive military academy, Sandhurst. But then one day his ploddingly average life was turned upside down when his father called him back to his troubled homeland of Brunei. He was the heir to a £40 billion fortune and was charged with cleaning up a country in disarray. Just one problem: he was 21. At an age when most are contemplating gap years and sponging off their folks, he was set to become the world’s richest man.

Born Keebawah* Duli Yang Maha Mulia Paduka Seri Baginda Sultan Haji Hassanal Bolkiah (it goes on for another equally ridiculous 12 names so we’ll spare you) in 1946, Brunei’s 29th Sultan has always been known as the planet’s most extravagant ruler. He lives in a 1,700-room mansion and has squandered squillions on custom Rolls-Royces and gold-plated loo seats. He was the richest man in the world until Bill Gates came along and seems to be Islam’s official ambassador for parties.

Bolkiah inherited his title at a time when his country was making the transformation from puny British protectorate on the north coast of Borneo to one of the world’s richest nations. Oilfields were discovered in Brunei way back in the 1920s but it took a good 50 years before foreign investors made the Norfolk-sized nation ker-ching with oil dollars. The people of Brunei got rich and the Sultan and his Royal Family got even richer.

Beer might be banned in Brunei, and the only fodder served in the Bandar Seri Begawan branch of McDonalds’s are Muslim-friendly egg sandwiches, but compared to other Southeast Asian countries, life in Brunei is pretty cushy. The Sultan’s biggest fault could well be his generosity. Education and health care are free, there’s no income tax and 94% of the population can read or write. The Sultan has built them a £1 billion Disneyland-gone-daft theme park and he coughs up for every citizen to make pilgrimages to Mecca. If you’re a Bruneian bright young thing, he’ll even pay for you to study abroad. Best of all, every July 15, the Sultan gives every citizen a free present to celebrate his birthday – this year it was a pay rise.

Citizens of Brunei do pay a price for their leader’s share-the-wealth policy – there are no elections, political parties or a free press – but such details are readily overlooked by happy constituents. Earlier this year, he even managed to change the constitution to declare, “His Majesty the Sultan can do no wrong in either his personal or any official capacity”.

BOY’S TOYS

While Brunei and its politics remain relatively anonymous to the rest of the world, the opulence of its leader has given him surprising notoriety over the years. He gave his daughter an Airbus 340 painted in her favourite colours for her 18th birthday, while he himself whizzes around in two Boeing 747-300s, both kitted out in enough glittery stuff to give P Diddy bling blindness. But the Sultan’s real soft spot is for cars. The petrol-headed billionaire is one of Rolls-Royce’s best customers, splurging on 50 limos every year, often with bespoke engines, which he’s named the “Sultan’s Special”. During the 1990s his family accounted for almost half of all Rolls-Royce purchases in the world, and his 200-strong stockpile is so huge, it takes an entire team of mechanics from the UK to service them. His collection was augmented last January, when he bought 12 Phantoms for £5 million each, with each one boasting bulletproof glass, body armour and widescreen TVs. And just to let everyone know who’s boss, he tootles around town with a number plate bearing the title “K1 NGS”.

Have a look around the Sultan’s garage and hidden among his 5,000 strong hoard, which includes a Porsche 959 (only 200 ever made) and 300 Aston Martins, you’ll find such motoring rarities as the Ferrari Mythos concept car of which only a few were ever made, as well as the world’s only right-hand drive Mercedes-Benz CLK-GTR Le Mans. The Sultan also owns one car for every Formula 1 World Champion since the 1980 season.

And then there’s the palace: Istana Nurul Iman is a gold-domed shrine to grandiosity, boasting a gargantuan 1,788 rooms, five swimming pools, air-conditioned stables for his 200 polo ponies and a £37 million painting by Renoir. Fifty-one thousand light bulbs power 567 chandeliers. Meanwhile, his Kensington pad here in the UK is rumoured to have two silver tissue dispensers that cost £250,000 a pop.

Whenever the monarch leaves the country, he takes a 500-strong army of butlers, cooks and playmates with him. He’s known to hire entire floors of hotels, and he often doesn’t venture downstairs until check-out day. He’s also visited by fashion-houses such as Versace and Armani, who set out their entire stock in front of him. “If he liked one particular suit,” remembers one Armani aide, “he’d buy 100 at a clip, all in the same colour. I could outfit entire countries with the clothing bought by the family.”

BROTHERS IN ARMS

The only curious blip in the Sultan of Brunei’s fantastically over-the-top lifestyle was his unwillingness to capitalise on his right to four wives, as dictated by Bruneian Islamic law. Every good Sultan should have a Harem, but rubbishly, Hassanal Bolkiah’s wife-turnover is relatively rare. He got hitched to his first cousin, Saleha, in 1967, then made space for his triple bed for a stewardess from his own airline in 1981. Divorcing her three years ago, he set eyes upon a 26-year-old Malaysian TV presenter while on a state visit, became glued to her channel and finally made the diva an offer she couldn’t refuse by getting spliced to her in August last year.

News of the palace’s revolving door of global beauties continued to make headlines nonetheless – thanks to the reckless lady-chasing of his brother, Prince Jefri, which would later cast serious doubts on the stability of Brunei’s Royal Family. Such was playboy Jefri’s fondness for the female form, he christened his own 152ft yacht the SS Tits, and named its two speedboats Nipple I and Nipple II. He was known to pack agents off around the world to cherry-pick models, who he’d then jet into Brunei to “entertain” him and his cronies. Ex-Playboy model Rebecca Ferratti spent two months in the Sultan’s pleasure palace in the 1990s and loved her lobster-and-champers lifestyle. “If a girl becomes a favourite at the palace she can easily come back with more than £2 million after just one year,” she said. “And she could probably make another £1 million selling all the jewellery she is given. There was no way I was going to have sex, and Prince Jefri never touched me. Any girl in LA would have jumped at the chance to go – you get tons of money and are treated like a princess.”

Then the inevitable happened. In 1998 he was sued for £47 million by former Miss USA, Shannon Marketic, who claimed that she and six other women were held captive in the Sultan’ palace for use as sex slaves for over a month. A US District Judge eventually found that the Sultan’s status as a head of state entitled his brother to “sovereign immunity” and the case was thrown out.

During his tenure as Brunei’s finance minister, Jefri had managed to embezzle £8 billion. He used this to purchase 30 mansions around the world, a jewellery collection (including a £210 million diamond) and a battalion of cars, leading the Brunei Investment Agency into bankruptcy. This, along with accusations of masterminding high-class prostitution rings, resulted in a severe falling out with his older brother. The Sultan sued him in 2000 and boldly banished him from Brunei for five years, forcing him to live on a paltry £30,000 a month. But more problems were brewing even closer to home.

The Sultan’s son, a 24-year-old Prince Azim, shows every sign in following in his uncle’s spendthrifty
footsteps. Last August he stunned Mariah Carey by flying a £3 million diamond necklace via private jet to her gig in New York. But it was Prince Azim himself who had his sights set on a pop career and was quoted as saying “I can sing (Everything I Do) I Do It For You better than Bryan Adams and would love a career in music. Sadly, I don’t have the face to be a singer – I’m 21, but people always think I’m 14.” Latter, in a bid to catch the eye of Sienna Miller, he picked up her £14,000 bar tab after a big night out at a London nightclub.

LAST ORDERS

Amid public spats with his looting sibling and trying to keep an eye on a boyband wannabe son who’s keen to live the high life, the Sultan has also been beleaguered with financial problems of his own. Geologists are predicting that by the time the Sultan’s 70th birthday comes around 2016, Brunei’s oil and gas reserves (which accounts for 93% of national exports) will be nearing an end. Moreover, having frittered away £30 billion in the last 20 years, the coffers of the ex-richest bloke in the world are now thought to be running dry. It is believed the Sultan is living on a quarter of the wealth he once enjoyed.

Stroll around Brunei these days and you’ll find the ostentatious hotels he built are empty and half the rides at the Jerudong theme park are shut. Most recently, the Sultan even faces a lawsuit over his refusal to pay a weding gift (a 400-year old handwritten Koran in a bejewelled box, valued over £5 million) for his second wife.

Could the Sultan be taking financial advice from his pal Michael Jackson and gliding towards bankruptcy? With oil reserves running out quicker than booze at a Charlotte Church party, it mighn’t be long before the Sultan’s gilded palaces are melted down to make crown fillinfs and Brunei is forced to revert back to the malaria-ridden tropical cesspit it once was. If you were ever planning a visit, now’s the time to do it.

The legacy now rests in the hands of the Sultan’s heir, Crown Prince Al-Muhtadee. The product of first cousins, the Prince is regarded to be a bit dimwitted, with Jefri’s old advisors claiming he’s so doofus-like he “can’t walk and chew gum at the same time”. He’s also plagued by diabetes, poor eyesight and, you guessed it, sex allegations – a Slovenian woman accused the Prince of cajoling her to have sex with him after meeting on the internet in 2003. Brunei may be on the verge of financial collapse but, with him in charge, at least life in the tiny Southeast Asian kingdom will never be dull.


THE FIVE MOST RIDICULOUS SPENDS

1.The Sultan is known to leave £20,000 tips while touring around the world.
2.His brother bought the Beverley Hotels for £100 million and lost a further £70 million on duff property deals.
3.Not content with a single necklace, Prince Jefri bought an entire Bond Street jewellery shop for £200 million – he was its best customer anyway.
4.The Sultan’s London home is said to have £250,000 tissue-holders.
5.He once paid Michael Jackson £10 million to play at his 50th birthday party.

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There's a lot here.

I doubt every one of you will trust the source. But before you dismiss it as "poisonous western media propaganda," do think. Before it's too late.

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