Audrey Young

Audrey Young is the New Zealand Herald’s political editor.

A $20 billion host for our $50m man

The Sultan of Brunei. Photo / Audrey Young
The Sultan of Brunei. Photo / Audrey Young

As far as dictators go, the Sultan of Brunei is said to be a nice one.

"A nice man," is how Sultan Hassanal Bolkiah is often described by those who meet him.

It is what Prime Minister John Key - reputed to be worth more than $50 million - said of his host - one of the richest people on the planet - before arriving in Brunei for today's East Asia Summit.

They have met too many times to count - and did so again yesterday.

For those who haven't met the nice dictator, the Sultan is more often defined by numbers: his wealth (US$20 billion), his wives (one current, two former), his children (12, and 10 grandchildren), his car collection (including a gold-coated Rolls-Royce) and his palace (1800 rooms, 290 bathrooms).

He used to own a property in Herne Bay, the swanky suburb where Labour leader David Cunliffe lives.

His formal name is Sultan Haji Hassanal Bolkiah Mu'izzaddin Waddaulah ibni Al-Marhum Sultan Haji Omar Ali Saifuddien Sa'adul Khairi Waddien Sultan and Yang Di-Pertuan of Brunei Darussalam, or His Majesty for short.

Long names run in the family. The Foreign Minister is the Sultan's "good" brother, Duli Yang Teramat Mulia Paduka Seri Pengiran Perdana Wazir Sahibul Himmah Wal-Waqar Pengiran Muda Mohamed Bolkiah, or His Royal Highness Prince Mohamed Bolkiah for short.

The Sultan's family have ruled Brunei for six centuries, which is why other countries don't make as much fuss as they do about Fiji being ruled by decree. And the fact it is so small.

It has only 400,000 people, not many more than in greater Wellington. It runs its share of international forums, having hosted Apec in 2000 and Asean and the East Asia Summit.

The royal family have had their share of scandals. The Sultan divorced his second wife, former air hostess Miriam Aziz, in 2003 after 21 years of marriage and stripped her of her titles, but she got to keep some precious gifts.

One of them, a blue pear-shaped diamond, valued at 8.1 million - given to her by the Sultan - was stolen from her Kensington home in London in 2009.

A Singaporean woman bodyguard has been extradited to Britain to stand trial for the theft early next year.

The Sultan's "not so good" brother, Prince Jefri Bolkiah, lost a huge amount of money and then lost legal action in 2010 against two British financial advisers whom he blamed for his misfortune.

The Sultan himself accused the same brother of embezzling US$15 billion from the Brunei Investment Fund that he chaired.

- NZ Herald

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