Will Brunei's Sultan Buy New York's Plaza Hotel?

Earlier this spring, the Dorchester Collection of hotels came under scrutiny when Sultan Hassanal Bolkiah of Brunei—who owns the collection of luxury hotels—instituted sharia law in his country, criminalizing (among other things) homosexuality and adultery. Protests helmed by Hollywood celebrities were staged at the Beverly Hills Hotel and the Hotel Bel-Air, both of which are part of the collection.

Those protests may soon move east: The New York Times and other sources are reporting that an investment vehicle associated with the Sultan is looking to buy the New York Plaza Hotel, along with Grosvenor House in London and the Dream Hotel in Lower Manhattan.

In a statement, Ty Cobb, the director of global engagement at the Human Rights Campaign, encouraged locals to block the purchase: “We urge all New Yorkers to have one simple and straight-forward message for the sultan: Take your business elsewhere,” he said.

As the Wall Street Journal noted, Brunei's offer is one of several from a handful of potential buyers, including Middle Eastern government funds, bidding on the three properties owned by India's Sahara Group.

Hotel analysts told the paper that if Brunei succeeds in purchasing the Plaza, the transaction could drag the famed hotel into the dispute, potentially damaging its business and reputation. Several high-level groups canceled events at the Beverly Hills Hotel following the institution of sharia law in Brunei this spring, hurting the hotel's finances. 

The story noted that the sultan might not want to add the Plaza to the Dorchester collection, or if he even could. Fairmont Hotels & Resorts Inc. has a management contract with the Plaza.