There’s no sense in reinventing the wheel here, the Lonely Planet writers explained things so well; I’ll let them tell you about the spendthrift brother of Brunei’s sultan.
“Any of Brunei’s buildings mentioned in the same breath as Prince Jefri tend to come with a sigh and a seven-digit price tag. The ultimate bored little rich boy, Jefri’s appointment as finance minister was like putting a kid in charge of all the candy in the candy store, and his financial flights of fancy were truly epic.
His acquisitions through the Amedeo Development Corporation included five luxury hotels overseas, not least the Beverly Hills Hotel in Los Angeles, and by the time the sultan cut him off, the prince had spent almost US$4 billion on himself, with personal possessions including 2000 cars, nine private jets, multiple lavish residences (including an apartment at the opulent Place Vendôme in Paris) and some much-discussed gold-plated toilet brushes.
Prince Jefri left Brunei for London on a ‘limited’ US$500,000-a-year allowance in 2004, barely enough to support his five wives and 35 children, but continued to enjoy an outlandish lifestyle, prompting the sultan and the Brunei Investment Agency (BIA) to pursue him again through the courts for an estimated US$16 billion in missing funds. In early 2006 things got even more confusing: the British press reported that the sultan ended the veritable battle royale, and had unexpectedly agreed to drop the charges.
Attempts have been made to mend the serious dent in the sultan’s bank account – most of the rides at Jerudong were sold to other amusement parks and Jefri’s ultimate beachside guest house was turned into a hotel (the Empire Hotel no less!), but there are dozens upon dozens of buildings around Brunei that sit empty and unkempt as they are slowly reclaimed by the unrelenting jungle.
KAPOORS ON THE ROAD
When I read about the extravagant Empire Hotel, reported built at an estimated cost of US$1.1 billion, I felt I just had to see it. We had toured the Emirates Palace Hotel when we visited friends living in Abu Dhabi in 2006, and I wanted to see if this – ‘lodging built for the guests of the royal family’ – could hold a candle to the hotel built for the Emirs of the United Arab Emirates.
David wasn’t at all keen to see it, but we dragged him along just the same. I’ll never forget the look on his face when we walked through the main entrance and into the massive lobby. He has seen a lot in this world, but he’d never seen anything like this. I won’t even attempt to describe the hotel, but instead will rely on the photos I’ve posted to shock and awe you.
We arrived just as they were setting up for afternoon high tea and I was surprised at how reasonable the cost was. I would have liked to sit and relax over a cup of Earl Grey in that setting, but David told us he wouldn’t feel at all comfortable in such a posh setting so we passed it up. Instead, we went for a long walk around the grounds. I have to say, I was surprised that we weren’t barred from the swimming pool and beach area because we weren’t registered guests.
The grounds were beautiful, as one would expect seeing the interior, but what most surprised me was that fact that an artificial, salt-water lagoon with a sandy beach had been constructed so that the sultans’ guests could enjoy the feeling of being in the ocean without having to deal with the waves. For those who wanted to play in the surf, the real thing was very near, just down a small path from the raised gardens that hosted the swimming pool.
I didn’t inquire if tours of the rooms and suites were conducted at the Empire Hotel, but I’m sure there would be many visitors who would pay to view one of the two pure Baccarat crystal camel-shaped lamps in the Emperor Suite. They are said to have cost US$500,000 each. The Suite can be yours for just US$17,000 per night and in case you don’t like swimming in public, you can luxuriate in the suite’s indoor swimming pool, reputed to be the most opulent in the world.