Sultan of Brunei offers $2bn for 3 Sahara hotels, emerges as leading bidder

  • Yashwant Raj, Hindustan Times, Washington
  • Updated: Aug 20, 2014 21:43 IST

The Sultan of Brunei has emerged as the leading bidder for Sahara’s Plaza Hotel in New York and other properties jailed Subrata Roy is selling to raise money for his bail.

An investment outfit affiliated to Brunei has offered $2.2 billion for the Plaza and Dream Hotel in New York and Grosvenor House in London, according to multiple reports.

Cyrus Poonawala, whose pharmaceutical company is among the world’s largest makers of pediatric vaccines, is also in the ring as are some West Asian moneybags.

But Poonawala is interested only in the London hotel — Grosvenor House — and not in Sahara’s US properties, which, he has conceded, puts his bid at a disadvantage.

Roy, who has been in jail for five months on charges of defaulting Rs. 20,000 crores owed to his depositors, has been ordered to pay Rs. 10,000 crore to get out on bail.

He told the Supreme Court the past week that he is close to finalising a deal with a foreign buyer, whom he didn’t name saying he couldn’t till the deal was done.

That unidentified buyer, it seems, is the Sultan of Brunei Hassanal Bolkiah, once the world’s richest man who has been in news recently of his country’s anti-LGBT laws.

His two hotels in the US, Beverly hills Hotel and Hotel Bel-Air, have been facing boycott calls from rights campaigners and celebrities such as comedian Jay Leno.

And as reports surfaced of the Sultan’s plans for the three Sahara-owned hotels, equal rights activists announced their intention to oppose the deal.

“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.

The Sultan’s luxury hotel business, run under the aegis of Dorchester Collection, has distanced itself from Brunei’s anti-gay laws, saying it is bound only by local laws.

Undeterred by the threat, the Sultan may still go through with the deal, picking up the iconic Plaza, and Roy may finally have the money needed to get himself out of Tihar.

With the court’s permission, Roy is negotiating the sale of his hotels from a special room at the jail — equipped with a net-enabled computer and camera.

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