Sultan of Brunei Back at Table to Buy Plaza Hotel?

by Ianthe Metzger

WASHINGTON––As new reports surfaced indicating the Sultan of Brunei could still be in negotiations to purchase the Plaza Hotel, today the Human Rights Campaign (HRC), America’s largest lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender civil rights organization, renewed its call to lawmakers, advocates, and supporters of the rights of women and LGBT people in New York to speak out against any effort by the Sultan of Brunei to acquire a hotel in the city.

In the days following HRC’s statement in August condemning the Sultan’s reported $2 billion bid for the Plaza Hotel and the Dream Downtown Hotel in New York, as well as the Grosvenor House Hotel in London, multiple media reports indicated that the Sultan’s plan would face solid opposition in New York. Soon after, his representatives issued what appeared to some as a categorical denial.  According to Reuters, a spokesman for the Sultan said, “neither His Majesty, the Brunei Investment Agency, nor the government of Brunei are involved in any way in the purchase of the Grosvenor House in London or the Plaza and Dream Downtown hotels in New York."

But according to the Wall Street Journal, S. Ganesh, a lawyer for the current owner of the three hotels, Sahara Group chairman Subrata Roy, claimed in court proceedings in India that “adverse media reports…led a prospective buyer to the brink of calling off the talks,” but added that Sahara "has been able to revive talks with that buyer.” Although that buyer was not identified by the lawyer, the very public news of the Sultan’s initial bid, and the withering criticism he’s faced in the time since, strongly suggests it could be Sultan of Brunei.

"It's crystal clear that the Sultan of Brunei wanted to buy the Plaza Hotel, and there's very little to indicate that's changed," said Ty Cobb, HRC’s Director of Global Engagement.  "We are monitoring the situation very closely, and if the Sultan makes an offer for the hotels, we and the people of New York will respond."

The Sultan has faced an international backlash following his decision in May to begin implementing a horrific series of new laws that could lead to the stoning of women and LGBT Bruneians.  Earlier reports about the potential sale indicated that some hotel guests as well as organizations that host annual events at The Plaza Hotel would refuse to return if a deal with the Sultan goes through. According to some industry experts, his potential ownership could impact the hotel’s business prospects and global brand.

HRC strongly condemned Brunei’s decision in May to introduce laws that allow for capital punishment to be used against women and LGBT people, and called on Americans to avoid his hotels.  Brunei’s decision has been widely condemned by the international community.  In April, the United Nations Commission on Human Rights condemned Brunei’s penal code reforms, saying it was "deeply concerned" and that stoning was considered to be "torture or other cruel, inhuman or degrading treatment or punishment" under international law.

“The Sultan of Brunei could start executing women and LGBT people as soon as next year, and the American profit stream that flows from his hotels back to his regime needs to end," said Cobb.


The Human Rights Campaign is America's largest civil rights organization working to achieve lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender equality. By inspiring and engaging all Americans, HRC strives to end discrimination against LGBT citizens and realize a nation that achieves fundamental fairness and equality for all.


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