Sultan of Brunei, who passed anti-LGBT laws, owns slew of luxury UK properties

Hassanal Bolkiah, who believes gay people should be stoned to death, is assisted by leading City auditing firms

The architect of new laws mandating the stoning to death of gay people in Brunei has billions of pounds of property wealth in the UK, shares in a leading tech fund and gets assistance from City auditing firms, a Guardian analysis has found.


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    Hassanal Bolkiah, the sultan of Brunei, owns a slew of properties in the super-rich enclaves of Kensington and Ascot, including luxury hotels and polo parks. One property alone could be worth an estimated 500m in rent each year.

    He has also invested millions of pounds in Draper Esprit, a tech-focused venture capital fund with holdings in Trustpilot and the financial services firm Revolut. Until recently his global hotel empire was audited by the accountancy firm PricewaterhouseCoopers.

    Bolkiah has become an international pariah for his implementation of sharia laws, including the stoning to death of people thought to be gay or to have committed adultery, in the country he has ruled as a supreme monarch for decades.

    George Clooney, Elton John and Ellen Degeneres are among the celebrities to have called for a boycott of Bolkiahs luxury hotel business, which owns the Dorchester in London and the Beverley Hills Hotel in Los Angeles.

    At least 18 different properties in the UK are owned by or linked to either Bolkiah or the Brunei Investment Agency (BIA), his countrys sovereign wealth fund. Several are held through offshore structures. Many were acquired decades ago and their value will have increased substantially.

    Map of some of sultan of Brunei’s UK properties

    In 1997 the BIA bought Embankment Place, the vast commercial complex above Charing Cross station, for 212m. It generates 17m in rent each year.

    The most famous of Bolkiahs UK acquisitions is his so-called Dorchester Collection of luxury hotels, now at the centre of the international boycott. It includes the Dorchester, which Bolkiah acquired in 1995, 45 Park Lane, and Coworth Park in Ascot. He also owns six other hotel businesses in the US, France and Italy through a UK company, Dorchester Group Ltd.

    Dorchester Group declared revenues of 384m in 2017 but paid no tax, instead booking a tax credit of 26m. It is owned by the BIA via a Dutch holding company, Ammar Holding Cooperatief.

    The BIA indirectly owns some of the hotels and several other properties via companies in the tax haven of Jersey. Among them are Herne Place near Windsor, a gated development of luxury flats where one apartment is currently advertised for a rent of more than 2,000 a month.

    Lansdowne House in Londons upmarket Berkeley Square is another asset associated with the BIA. It recently won permission to make changes to the building, and property experts estimate this could result in it being worth 500m a year in rents.

    The Aviary, a large country house in west London lying behind a substantial brick wall, has been owned by the sultan for about 40 years, as has a luxury townhouse in Leinster Square, Notting Hill. Another London address on Kensington Palace Road, the UKs most expensive street with average property prices of 37m, is owned on a leasehold basis. The sultans landlord is the Queen.

    An international backlash against Bruneis new laws was gathering pace on Saturday. Transport for London said it would pull advertisements for Bruneis national airline, while Kings College London and Aberdeen University were reviewing honorary degrees granted to Bolkiah.

    The organisers of TV Choice awards said they would no longer be held at the Dorchester hotel, while several property companies and the Financial Times also said they would cancel events there.

    Deutsche Bank said it had removed the hotels owned by the sultanate from its list of suppliers. Stuart Lewis, the chief risk officer for the bank, said: The new laws introduced by Brunei breach the most basic human rights, and we believe it is our duty as a firm to take action against them.

    The Dorchester Collection switched off social media accounts on Thursday, saying it was due to personal abuse directed at our employees for whom we have a duty of care.

    Draper Esprit, which received a 20m investment from the BIA, issued a statement condemning the Brunei law and distancing itself from its part-owner.

    As an inclusive employer and investor, we naturally abhor the recent announcement in Brunei, said its chief executive, Simon Cook. As with all publicly traded companies, our shares can be bought by all investors in the open market, and we cant speak for the views and opinions of our investors. He said the BIA had no board representation or influence over investment decisions.

    Bolkiahs hotel empire has for years been audited by PwC, which declined to issue an on-the-record comment. However, the Guardian understands that PwC recently lost the contract to the rival auditor BDO.

    In a statement to parliament on Thursday, the Foreign Office minister Mark Field said the British government considered Bolkiahs new laws appalling and possibly a breach of international law.

    Laws passed in the UK in 2017 and 2018 contain provisions to allow ministers to pursue the UK assets of perpetrators of gross human rights abuses. However, they have never been applied. A spokesperson for the Foreign Office said it believed open and honest discussion was the best way to encourage Brunei to change its behaviour.

    Neither Bolkiah nor the BIA could be reached for comment.

    Original Article : HERE ; This post was curated & posted using : RealSpecific

     


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