Brunei Darussalam or the “Nation of Brunei, the Abode of Peace” sounds tranquil enough, but this little nation on the coast of Borneo is a far cry from its utopian name. While the entire country is made up of only a little over 400, 000 people, they are an economic force to be reckoned with. Brunei gained its independence from the United Kingdom in 1984 and subsequently more than doubled its GDP—quite an accomplishment. Now, we always like to cheer for the newly-freed underdog, right? Brunei is the little country that could, so what exactly is the problem? Well, Brunei is a Sharia-Law-loving, economic force to be reckoned with to be more specific! And as a developed nation that ranked fifth on Forbes and World Atlas’ list of richest nations, with a public debt of 0% of the national GDP, these guys have a gusto we should fear may send us packing back to the Stone Age! And at the heart of Brunei’s totalitarian regime is its Sultan, billionaire extraordinaire, Hassanal Bolkiah. This list takes a look at some of the most disturbing facts you should know about of this itty-bitty mighty state.
15. The Same Family Has Been Running the Show For 600 Years
The key to running any successful totalitarian regime is to keep it in the family, and that is exactly what has happened in the abode of peace. Hassanal Bolkiah is the 29th Sultan of Brunei and belongs to the same family that has ruled Brunei for over six hundred years! Hassanal Bolkiah, who is also known as his Majesty Paduka Seri Baginda Sultan Haji Hassanal Bolkiah Mu’izzaddin Waddaulah, no joke, inherited the throne at the ripe old age of 21 in 1967 after the abdication of his father. And while the Brits had their hands in Brunei’s political pot until the ironic year of 1984, the power that Bolkiah has yielded since Brunei’s independence leaves very little to no room for change. Under the masquerade of “democratization”, the Sultan pronounced himself the country’s Prime Minister. And this has got to be a tough gig to manage on top of his role as the Finance Minister, Defense Minister, as Inspector General of Police, the chancellor of the national university, supreme commander of the armed forces, oh yeah, and supreme leader of the Islamic faith. Busy guy! Bolkiah has designated his eldest son, Prince Al-Muhtadee Billah, as his successor.
14. Sharia Law
Unless you’ve been living under a rock, you have heard the big, bad words “Sharia Law”— the religious law set out by Islam—and Brunei happens to be one of the countries making headlines for their adoption of it. In 2014, Sultan Hassanal Bolkiah announced that Sharia Law would be implemented in Brunei in three phases. The first phase includes fines and prison sentences for “crimes” like pregnancy out of wedlock, not attending mandatory Friday prayers, or spreading a religion other than Islam. The second phase involves harsh penalties like floggings or cutting off hands for property crimes. Like in Aladdin—remember that scene where Jasmine takes the apple for the hungry kid? Riff raff, street rat. I don’t by that…. The third and most disturbing phase will introduce executions, by stoning no less, for such heinous acts as adultery, abortion, and blasphemy—the makings of any good weekend. And these laws will apply to Muslims and non-Muslims alike. Over 30% of Brunei’s population identifies as non-Islamic, the majority of non-Muslims being Buddhist. Not to mention the Muslims who do not want to live under Sharia Law! As phase three encroaches, Brunei may lose some significant footing!
13. Sultan Hassanal Bolkiah Is The Second Richest Royal in the World
Alright, so we’ve already discussed how wealthy this country is—Bruneians receive free heath care, education, subsidized food and housing, and they don’t pay income taxes—BUT let’s talk about its leader, Hassanal Bolkiah. According to Forbes, this guy is the second richest royal in the world—second only to the King of Thailand, Bhumibol Adulyadej, who happened to die in 2016. The Sultan’s net worth is an estimated $20 billion! The riches are largely due to the oil and gas development in Brunei over the past few decades, but the king shows no sign of humility and indulges at every turn. He reportedly spent $100 million on a Boeing 747-400 with $120 million in upgrades, complete with washbasins made of solid gold and Lalique crystal! His palace, Istana Nurul Iman, is the largest residence in the world with 1,788 rooms, and cost over $350 million to build! If his wealth keeps growing at its current rate, about $90-95 per second, his eldest son might be the world’s first trillionaire!
12. Sultan Hassanal Bolkiah’s Owns Over 5,000 Cars
The leader of the not-so-free world is obviously a privileged man, having been handed his kingdom by his familial ancestors, but his indulgent opulence is truly captured by the disturbingly large car collection he shares with his third brother, Prince Jefri, and some select nephews. His majesty owns over 5,000 cars, including luxury exotics, sports cars, and limited editions. Reports indicate that he has over 300 Ferraris, 126 Porsches, 600 Rolls Royces, 170 Jaguars, 180 BMWs, 360 Bentleys, 11 McLaren F1s, and 530 Mercedes-Benzes. He has so many Mercedes-Benzes that the company custom made cars for him, including a gold, plated one and the only right-hand drive Mercedes Benz CLK-GTR in the world. Reports on the collection’s value vary, but many estimate it in the billions!
11. They Have Been Under Martial Law Since 1962
Brunei was a British Protectorate from 1888 to 1984. Basically, this means that the United Kingdom and the Crown had ultimate power and jurisdiction even though the country of Brunei was not formally annexed. During the 1960s, the population of Brunei held a growing distrust for its Sultan and were worried over talks of joining the Federation of Malaysia. Coordinated attacks on the oil town of Seria and police stations launched the revolt of 1962. During the revolt, martial law was instituted by the British troops from Singapore but was never lifted.
The current Sultan, our man, Hassanal Bolkiah’s father abdicated the throne after only 17 years in 1967, and Bolkiah, his eldest son, seized all the power his father had and then some. Brunei became an independent country in 1984 and Sultan Hassanal Bolkiah is now the Commander in Chief of Royal Brunei Armed Forces. He thus holds absolute military control over his small nation.
10. Homosexuality Is Punishable By Death
Like all uncivilized nations before it, Brunei believes the appropriate penalty for such atrocious crimes as having intercourse with consenting members of the same sex, is death by stoning. Now of course, for such an execution to take place, adequate evidence will have to be found including testimony from impartial witnesses who, I would have to guess, are the neighborhood peeping toms.
Believe it or not, the institution of such a verdict is new! While homosexuality has always been illegal with perpetrators facing 10-year prison sentences, the imposition of Sharia Law (in three phases), will make the death penalty a reality for Brunei’s LGBT community by 2018. The law is highly criticized by the United Nations, and The Huffington Post reported celebrities such as Jay Leno, Ellen DeGeneres, and John Legend have publicly acknowledged their boycott of establishments owned by Brunei’s billionaire Sultan, Hassanal Bolkiah.
9. Sultan Hassanal Bolkiah Owns Property In The US
I don’t know about you, but I’m not sure how I’d feel about Mr. Bolkiah being my neighbor! Well, that is exactly the reality for some lucky Las Vegas residents who happen to call Tomiyasu Lane home. This luxurious and prestigious street in Sin City is where casino owner, Phil Ruffin, and other major Vegas players take refuge from the bright lights of the strip in some of the most expensive properties in the state. Michael Jackson even had his eye on a property there before his passing—a $16.5 million mansion he planned to call “Wonderland.” $16.5 million is peanuts compared to Sultan Hassanal’s property that is worth an estimated $37.5 million! The mansion itself is 65,000 square feet, but clearly, that is not enough space. The property is also complete with two guest homes, a spa, tennis courts and a pool, an equestrian center, and a polo field. And did I mention there’s a discotheque for when he wants to get down with his bad self? Seriously!
8. The Sultan Is An Honorary Doctor… Many Times Over
So, somehow, a man that has ruled a country under martial and Sharia Law is buddy-buddy with the Queen of England. Sultan Hassanal Bolkiah has not only been knighted by the Queen, like his father before him, but he has also received countless honorary degrees. He holds Honorary Degrees from Oxford University, Moscow State University, University of Aberdeen, Universitas Gadjah Mada in Indonesia, University of Thailand, University of Singapore, and an Honorary Doctorate of Law by King’s College London. Not to mention his countless honorary awards from Brunei and other countries!
7. The Sultan is Above The Law
Of course, a man so great as the Sultan of Brunei has no need for the harsh laws he imposes on his people—it says so in Brunei law. Hassanal Bolkiah was sure to solidify his position as the infallible leader by writing it into the constitution which now declares, “His majesty the sultan can do no wrong in either his personal or any official capacity.” And this whole time I thought he was doing something wrong! My bad! Apparently, this little addition to the constitution has been accepted without many blinking an eye at Bolkiah’s indiscretions. In a rather convoluted familial situation, his Majesty has been divorced twice, all while remaining married to his first wife/ first cousin, Saleha, the Queen Consort of Brunei. Between his three wives, he has fathered twelve children. 60 Minutes also released an expose titled The Playboy Sultan and interviewed one of the women, Jillian Lauren, who was part of the Sultan’s harem. Lauren stated that she had sex with both the Sultan and his brother Jefri hundreds of times, and while not an expert in Sharia law, could fairly say that they broke many of the rules!
6. The Sultan’s Australian Property is Larger than Brunei
The Sultan basks in the glory of his country’s success, and while 215,000 barrels of oil are being pumped daily, he takes credit for sharing the wealth that has been amassed with his people. And the citizens don’t have much choice but to go along with it. SFGATE interviewed one Bruneian who said, “We like our sultan very much. He is very rich, and he shares it with us.” How thoughtful of him!
The copious amounts of oil dollars allow the tiny nation to subsist as a welfare state under which the Sultan even provides a good portion of the beef that’s brought into the country for consumption. The cows are raised on his ranch in Australia and imported as an important food source. The Sultan is said to have a ranch that covers 579,000 hectares, a land mass that is larger than the country he’s providing for!
5. Prostitution Rings
While prostitution is technically illegal in Brunei with prison sentences of up to 5 years and fines of upwards of $20,000, the reality of the situation seems to be quite different. The Sultan and his brother, Prince Jefri, are quite well known for their outrageous exploits and are coined as “constant companions in hedonism” by Vanity Fair. Prince Jefri once owned a yacht by the delightful name of “Tits,” and the brothers are partners in crime in their sex parties and their harems of mostly underage girls. It’s been reported that these two have a global network of employees hired simply to procure women. Now, what’s worse is that the US State Department reports that men and women from Indonesia, Malaysia, China, Bangladesh, Thailand and the Philippines, who migrate to Brunei for domestic work are sometimes subjected to involuntary servitude and some to sex or labor trafficking when they arrive! In the past, some government officials have been investigated for their complicity in the trafficking rings tied to Brunei, and much attention was shed on the issue by Jillian Lauren’s memoir on the time she spent in the Sultan’s harem, Some Girls, but Hassanal Bolkiah and his brother have escaped any sort of prosecution scot-free.
4. Prince Jefri Embezzled Billions
We all imagine what it would be like to have endless funds at our disposal, but what would we do if that was a reality? Prince Jefri is infamous for blowing through $14.8 billion! In Mark Seal’s Vanity Fair article, he states that Prince Jefri has as “probably gone through more cash than any other human being on earth.”
Things began for the Prince back in 1983—the moment before Brunei gained independence from England. The Prince was made the Head of the Brunei Investment Agency, the same branch that manages the astronomically high oil revenues. By 1986, he was appointed as the minister of finance and was shortly thereafter pronounced the richest man in the world. So how did he blow through all the dough? Well, partying of course—but on a level, the laymen could not begin to imagine! The Prince threw all night parties with hired dancers and singers, jetted to locations all over the globe, gambled, raced his sports cars, imported horses, collected art, purchased a $7 million carpet (seriously, it exists), bought up 5 Star hotels including The Beverly Hills Hotel, and Asprey—the jeweler to the Queen. Of course, this all caught up with him and he was charged with misappropriating funds. In the most expensive legal proceedings ever, Prince Jefri was ordered to return his assets to the state—this included more than 500 properties around the world, over 2,000 cars, hundreds of paintings, boats, and 9 aircraft. Playtime’s over!
3. Birthday Spending…
Obviously, the Sultan of Brunei does not mind spending his cash, especially on himself. His 50th birthday bash was no exception! The commencement of the two-week long party was marked with a military procession, which was followed by a polo match against Britain’s Prince Charles. 3,000 of his closest friends were also invited to a dinner of endless cocktails and champagne and Beluga caviar. He was also sure to provide great entertainment—he flew Michael Jackson in for a reported $16 million. The King of Pop performed three concerts in all- one to 60,000 fans at the Jerudong Amusement Park, and 2 for the Sultan’s special friends. The entire thing cost about $27 million, which is about $40.5 million today! Forbes reported that the shindig only accounted for .1% of the Sultan’s earnings for that year…pocket change!
2. No Freedom of the Press
When politicians fear the press, they fear the truth. The Sultan of Brunei is clearly running a regime that relies on propaganda, and as such, the government strictly regulates the media. The government’s reach is so encompassing, they even own 6 television stations and 5 radio stations. While there are private enterprises, the news coverage is “pro-government” and consists of police-beat reporting, lifestyle features, and community events. It ignores any and all diverse viewpoints, and certainly does not welcome western journalists! Any data collection by tourists can be reported and investigated by the state’s very active secret police. The country’s media is listed as “not free” by Freedom House, and laws about reporting “false news” are strict. Those found guilty could face up to 3 years in prison! While the internet appears to be quite open, Freedom House reported a local forum called BruneiTalk was blocked after users discussed some underhanded business dealings of senior government officials. Yikes!
1. There Is Only 1 McDonalds In The Whole Country
Despite their huge human rights violations and stone age penal system of hacking off peoples’ limbs, quite possibly the most disturbing fact about Brunei is that there is only one McDonald’s! Oh, the humanity! It appears, like most McDonalds locations in Asia, that the Brunei menu contains some different food items than we might be used to. According to FoodSpotting, Brunei’s McDonald’s menu features such dishes as chicken porridge, the spicy chicken ‘McDeluxe’ burger, the ‘prosperity meal’ (the meal that keeps on giving), and a zesty lime ‘Mcflurry’ for dessert! The restaurant is in the heart of Gadong, a metropolis of shopping and commercial centers. And if you can’t spot the golden arches, not to worry, the Colonel has got you covered.