Oil cash buys chain of homes around the world

James Cusick
Thursday 15 December 1994 00:02

As an upmarket estate agent in London once remarked, the Sultan of Brunei sometimes looks as if he buys property the way most of us buy milk. Yesterday he left a note out : "Leave extra one today." The extra one cost £40m.

As the wealthiest person on planet Earth, at least according to the American Forbes magazine, the head of the Brunei royal family has an estimated personal fortune of £30bn, generated from oil and gas fields in Brunei. His pocket will not be too hard hitby his latest residential acquisition.

When His Majesty Paduka Seri Baginda Sultan and Yang de-Pertuan, Sultan Hassanal Bolkiah Mu'izzaddin Waddaulah Inbi al-Marhum Sultan Haji Omar Ali Saifuddien Sa'adul Khariri Waddien, adds his substantial nameplate to another front door, the homes he is now reputed to be able to choose from on visits to England alone will number at least 11.

He has a home in Osterley, near Heathrow, a mansion in Kensington Palace Gardens and a house in Southall, west London, set in 47 acres. And if he must have five-star room service, he can choose the Dorchester Hotel, in central London, which he also owns.

His acquisitions from his estimated annual income of £1.5bn (two years ago it was calculated that 65,000 barrels of oil were pumped daily from Brunei's vast reserves, generating £6m a day, or £250,000 an hour, £4,200 a minute, £70 a second) are subject to constant real-estate guesswork.

The guessing game is not helped by the Sultan. Asked once if he owned Harrods in London, he replied: "I don't know." Maybe he did not. But according to the Department of Trade and Industry report on the Fayeds takeover of the House of Fraser, it was his money that enabled the deal to go through.

As well as owning the Dorchester, the New York Palace Hotel, and the Beverly Hills Hilton, among others, the Sultan is not short of bedrooms at home. His palace in Brunei can seat 4,000 for dinner. It has 257 lavatories, 564 chandeliers, and five swimming pools.

Friends at the dinner party might include snooker players Cliff Thorburn and Dennis Taylor (hired to teach his sons to pot the black), golfer Nick Faldo (hired to teach the Sultan to swing) and the arms dealer Adnan Khashoggi, from whom the Sultan boughta £25m yacht.

On his last official visit to Britain, met at Victoria Station by the Queen herself, a Foreign Office spokesman said: "Quite simply, the Sultan is not here as an individual . . . but as the head of a very important state which this country needs.''

Quite so. As an admirer of Baroness Thatcher during her days at No 10, the Sultan is rumoured to have used his wealth to help prop up the pound in times of crisis.

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