BRUNEI: ONCE LARGE AND MIGHTY, NOW SMALL AND SUPER RICH
The Sultanate of Brunei can look back on uninterrupted sovereignty lasting 600 years. During
its heyday from the 15th to the 17th century, the mighty empire of the ancestors of the cur-
rent Sultan stretched out across the entire north coast of Borneo, the Sulu archipelago and
the Philippines. Through internal quarrels and uprisings, piracy and the ever-growing number
of lucrative trading posts of European colonisers, the sultanate literally lost ever more terri-
tory. Especially the British and the Dutch shamelessly claimed large areas of land. In the end,
it even went so far that a treaty - the London Treaty of 1824 - regulated the division of the
island between England and the Netherlands. The British got the part that is now East Malaysia
and the Dutch the current Kalimantan. After Brunei was geographically reduced to its present
surface, it became a British protectorate in 1888. It was not until 1984 that Brunei became
independent. Thanks to the discovery of enormous reserves of oil in its territorial waters, the
sultanate had in the meantime become one of the richest countries in the world.
HIS ROYAL MAJESTY OF BRUNEI
Sultan Hassanal Bolkiah (his full name is: Sultan Haji Hassanal Bolkiah Mu'izzaddin Waddaulah
ibni Al-Marhum Sultan Haji Omar Ali Saifudeen Sa'adul Khairi Waddien) is the 29th in
line. Besides Sultan, Hassanal Bolkiah is also Prime Minister, Minister of Finance (always
handy when the till containing the state money is close at hand), Minister of Defence and
Commander-in-Chief of the police and the armed forces. In addition, he is also the religious
leader. If you still have any doubts: in Brunei, the Sultan has the absolute power.
With a capital estimated at around 20 billion euros, the Sultan of Brunei is one of the richest
people in the world. In the dictionary of the 71-year-old man the expression 'beware of excess'
does not occur. Hassanal Bolkiah was born in a crib with gold bars and has been surrounded
by unimaginable luxury all his life. What happens when someone can’t even begin to imagine
the extent of his wealth?
Well, first of all it gives you a palace that is the largest royal residence in the world. The Istana
Nurul Iman - freely translated: Palace of the Light of the Faith - has 1788 rooms, 257 bath-
rooms, a banquet hall for 4000 guests, 18 lifts, a private satellite park and a fully equipped
sports hall. The costs of the “cottage” are estimated at 400 million euros. (By comparison:
Donald Trump has to make do with a meagre 132 rooms in the White House.) If the Sultan
wants to move around, he has an exorbitant collection of fancy cars. If he is in a hurry, the
Monarch can choose between two helicopters and nine planes, including two Boeings and
an Airbus. The Sultan has a weakness for polo and in his extensive stable (complete with air
conditioning) he houses 200 Argentine thoroughbreds. If one of the children is celebrating a
birthday, it is always fun to fly out some figures from Disney World and if the Sultan himself
has something to celebrate, well, then the sky is the limit. He celebrated his fiftieth birthday
with a concert by the late Michael Jackson, who reportedly received 17 million dollars in cash.
It should also be mentioned that the Royal Family is the owner of the Dorchester chain with
hotels all over the world. The most famous are the Beverly Hills Hotel and the Bel-Air Hotel in
Los Angeles, the Meurice and the Plaza Athénée in Paris, the Richemond in Geneva and Hotel
Eden in Rome.