The Royals Of Brunei Lead Lives Of Almost Incomprehensible Wealth

Sultan of brunei
A giant portrait of Brunei’s Sultan Hassanal Bolkiah is on display during his 62nd birthday celebration in Bandar Seri Begawan July 15, 2008. REUTERS/Bazuki Muhammad

The nation of Brunei has come under fire for its recent imposition of Shariah law, an Islamic code that metes out harsh penalties like amputation and stoning for offenses like theft and gay sex.

Eventually, Brunei will implement the death penalty for certain violations of the code.

Shariah law, which is based on the Quran, covers a range of issues within a “moral framework,” which doesn’t exactly jive with outlandish past media reports about the royal family of Brunei. The family is thought to be one of the wealthiest royal families in the world. The Sultan alone is reportedly worth $20 billion.

In July 2011, a Vanity Fair tell-all detailed the outrageous spending habits and lifestyle of Prince Jefri Bolkiah, brother of Sultan Hassanal Bolkiah. Among other tidbits, the profile said Prince Jefri owned more than 2,300 cars and a yacht named Tits with tenders called Nipple 1 and Nipple 2.

The Sultan himself lives in a palace with 1,788 rooms and 257 bathrooms. It’s considered to be the world’s second-largest palace after Beijing’s Forbidden City, and reportedly has a 110-car garage, an air-conditioned stable for the Sultan’s 200 polo ponies, and five swimming pools.

After the new laws went into effect in Brunei May 1, a former mistress to the Sultan detailed her experience in the Daily Beast, writing:

And yet it is the privilege of the prince and the sultan to misbehave. The picaresque escapades and legendary extravagances of the brothers are indulged with a collective wink. For everyone else residing within Brunei’s borders, Muslim and non-Muslim alike, freedoms are curtailed, and those limitations now are potentially enforced by brutal violence.

Stories about the wild lives of the royal family of Brunei abound. Robert Rangel, a former deputy sheriff in Los Angeles who also spent several years running security for the Sultan and his brother in LA, shared some stories of almost unthinkable extravagance in the recently released “The Organ Grinder’s Monkey.”

According to the book, the Sultan and his family regularly traveled with an entourage of 150 and paid Disney to have theme park characters flown to Brunei for a kids’ birthday party. Alcohol (which can’t be sold legally in Brunei) and mistresses were regularly present, Rangel writes.

The two excerpts below (republished with permission) reveal just how wealthy — and demanding — the royal family could be.

The time the Sultan’s 14-year-old nephew spent $US500,000 on two Bentleys:

I had been told that Prince Hakeem [the eldest son of the Sultan’s brother] was not a shopper. It’s true that he did not shop every day, but to say that he is not a shopper is a lie!

Mr. Mustapha [the assistant to Prince Jefri, the Sultan’s brother] called me, “Prince Hakeem wants to go to the Beverly Hills Rolls Royce dealer. He wants to buy a ‘Bentley.'” Of course, as you know, a Bentley is a car — a very expensive car.

Off we went to the dealership. Of course we had called prior to arriving and a salesman was expecting us. He had been told who we were and he was salivating to sell us a couple of Bentleys. There were two Bentleys on the showroom floor. One was dark blue and the other pearl white. Prince Hakeem turned to me, “Steve, which colour do you like?”

“Your Highness,” I said. I know, I know, you’re thinking he’s fourteen years old. Here I was calling him Your Highness and he is not even old enough to have a driver’s licence and he’s looking to buy a Bentley. Hey, I’m not making this up; I’m just telling you what happened.

I said (Yes, I was in disbelief but refused to show it to the salesman), “I like the dark blue one.”

He turned to the salesman and said, “I’ll take them both!” So much for my opinion.

Sultan of brunei family
The royal family of Brunei. REUTERS/Ahim Rani

“Certainly, sir.” The one he liked cost one hundred and fifty thousand dollars, but there were just a few minor changes he wanted to make so that he could have it just exactly as he preferred. He wanted the Bentley converted from a four-door to a two-door and some other minor changes. How do you make a two-door car into a four-door car? I guess with saws, torches, and rivets. I was shuddering thinking that they would be chopping up a one-hundred-and-fifty-thousand-dollar car.

When he was through, the one- hundred-and-fifty-thousand-dollar Bentley cost two hundred fifty thousand dollars. After the negotiations, he turned to me, “I got the blue one for my dad. I’ll keep the white one.” A fourteen-year-old. Hell, he bought them like he was ordering a Big Mac.

Only one of the Bentleys was ever driven one time, and Prince Hakeem drove it. After buying the cars, he drove the white Bentley from Beverly Hills to the Santa Monica Beach then back to Beverly Hills again. Thereafter, the Bentleys were stored at one of Prince Jefri’s homes in Beverly Hills never to be driven again.

The time the family’s staff spent $US50,000 on roses for a half-hour visit:

In August of 1990, Princess Pengiran Isteri Norahyati [PIN, first wife of Prince Jefri] came to Los Angeles to celebrate her birthday. When they arrived, I was instructed by PG Mustapha to decorate the two houses on Hartford Way [in Beverly Hills] with flowers. He said that PIN was probably going to walk through both houses. “Steve, if she likes the houses, she might move into them.”

“OK, Mr. Mustapha. What kind of flowers?”

“Roses. Red roses.”

“All red roses?”


You have to understand each house was approximately eight thousand square feet. What would be your next question? How many, right? Should I put some in the bedrooms and the entryways? So I asked, “How many?”

“As many as possible,” was his answer. “Just fill up all the rooms!”

All the rooms? Every room? Kitchens, bathrooms . . . closets?

I called the florist to look at the houses. It was like the old days at the gas station. “How much gas you want, Mac?” My head whipped around to face him, “Fill’er up!”

I ended up putting in 2,500 roses in each house. I thought surely this was more than enough. To say the houses smelled like roses was like saying a fart stinks.

On the night of PIN’s arrival, PG Mustapha came to look over the houses before she arrived. Once inside, he said, “Not enough. More roses.”

Not enough? I asked him, “How many more do you want?”

He answered, “Double it up!”


So I called the florist and told him that he needed to come right away.

“More roses, more roses. DOUBLE IT UP!” I floored the florist. You bet he returned that same night. He couldn’t believe that there weren’t enough roses. He doubled the amount so that ultimately there were five thousand roses in each house. The houses looked like a mortuary with ten bedrooms, two dining rooms, two breakfast nooks, two huge kitchens, four living rooms, and four dens, all full and overflowing with red roses. Keep in mind that this was just for PIN to see the houses, not to stay in them.

She spent a total of thirty minutes looking at the houses and then left. Because PIN was staying in Los Angeles for ten days, I had to replenish them and make sure that the roses stayed fresh throughout her visit. This was in case she wanted to go back to see the houses again. Thank God I did because on the eighth day, she revisited the houses. A fair, approximate cost for the roses was $US50,000 big ones. That’s equivalent to many family’s income for a full year! It still looked nice and rosy when she left.