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Sultan’s Plaza bid sparks an outcry

By Konrad Putzier

The Sultan of Brunei’s reported bid to take over the Plaza Hotel has come under scrutiny amid protests from gay rights activists.

“The American profit stream that flows from his hotels back to his regime needs to stop. We urge all New Yorkers to have one simple and straight-forward message for the Sultan: take your business elsewhere,” said Ty Cobb of the Human Rights Campaign (HRC), a lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender civil rights organization.

Hassanal Bolkiah a.k.a. the Sultan of Brunei
Hassanal Bolkiah a.k.a. the Sultan of Brunei

A firm associated with the Sultan of Brunei has offered $2 billion for the Plaza Hotel, the Dream Downtown Hotel on West 16th Street, and Grosvenor House in London, according to a report in the Wall Street Journal.

Although the Sultan yesterday denied having made the bid, the paper also reported that a number of other potential buyers, including Middle Eastern sovereign wealth funds, are bidding on the properties.The Sultan, who owns the Beverly Hills Hotel and Hotel Bel-Air in California, has come under heavy criticism for anti-gay laws adopted in his southeast Asian nation in April.

Brunei’s new penal code makes homosexuality punishable by death through stoning. In response, celebrities like Ellen DeGeneres and Jay Leno called for a boycott of the Sultan’s California hotels. HRC was also among those calling for a boycott. The United Nations Commission on Human Rights condemned the law, arguing that stoning was considered to be “torture or other cruel, inhuman or degrading treatment or punishment” under international law.

The Sultan’s hotel operator, Dorchester Properties, told the Wall Street Journal that boycotts of its hotels in California and Europe have already cost the company millions of dollars in lost revenue. A possible boycott of the Plaza Hotel could be similarly damaging.

Dorchester has previously owned the New York Palace Hotel on Madison Avenue, which it sold in 2011.
The Plaza Hotel’s current owner is Subrata Roy’s Sahara Group, which took over a controlling 75 percent share of the building for $431 million. Saudi Prince al-Waleed bin Talal owns the remaining 25 percent.

Roy, a native Indian, is currently in a New Delhi jail on charges of selling $4 billion worth of bonds without permission. His bail is set at $1.6 billion — a likely factor in his decision to put the Plaza and Dream Hotel on the market.

Bloomberg Businessweek reported that Roy is conducting the ales negotiations from prison. On August 1, a court ruled that he could use the prison’s conference hall as a cell and office, equipped with video-conferencing and internet. Roy is also allowed to have four staff members from 8 a.m. to 6 p.m. to help with the sale.

According to previous reports, an unidentified Middle Eastern Investor offered $1.6 billion for the Plaza and Dream Downtown Hotel last year. Roy apparently rejected the offer. His most recent legal troubles should make a deal more likely. The sooner Roy sells, the sooner he’ll get to leave jail.

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