The Sultan of Brunei passed new anti-LGBT laws to clean up his image as a big-spending playboy, critics say

sultan of brunei familyREUTERS/Ahim Rani

  • Brunei last week introduced new laws that would see gay people stoned to death.
  • Critics say the new move towards conservative Islam contrasts with the reputation of the country's ruler, Sultan Hassanal Bolkiah as an international playboy and big spender.
  • Sultan Hassanal and his immediate family regularly flaunt their wealth, and he reportedly used to send people around the world to "comb the globe for the sexiest women they could find."
  • Human rights activists say there is a "high degree of hypocrisy" with the sultan's new move to conservative Islam.
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The 72-year-old Sultan of Brunei may have passed his controversial anti-homosexuality laws in order to clean up his own reputation as a playboy and big spender, critics say.

The new laws, which were issued as a direct order from the sultan, state that homosexuality, sodomy, adultery, and rape offences will be punished with death by stoning.

Sultan Hassanal Bolkiah of Brunei made a rare public address to the nation last week, saying according to CGTN and CNN: "Touching on the attainment of blessings from Allah, I want to see Islamic teachings in this country grow stronger and more visible in the country."

"This system preserves and guarantees the rights of all the people regardless of their race and faith," he said.

Sultan Hassanal BolkiahDrew Angerer/zgetty Images

'There is a high degree of hypocrisy here'

The sultan's emphasis on moving his country to a more conservative interpretation of Islam appears contrary to his family's reputation as big spenders and "sex-crazed" playboys.

Matthew Woolfe, the founder of the human rights organization The Brunei Project, told CNN: "The sultan is getting on in years now, and his family hasn't always had the cleanest of reputations."

"Certainly, there are a lot of people talking about the hypocrisy of laws that the sultan and his government are implementing when his family, in the past, could have been seen as being in violation of these laws with some of their antics," said Woolfe.

"Some people see it as a way of cleaning up and perhaps creating his legacy."

Phil Robertson, deputy Asia director at Human Rights Watch, told Business Insider: "Members of the Brunei royal family have hardly been paragons of virtue while overseas, and some of their past behavior would have fallen afoul of this law had it been effect back then."

"So there is a high degree of hypocrisy here, and the Sultan and his family need to be called out on this. If the Sultan wishes to live a more virtuous life that's his business, but he ... should not be promoting medieval punishments like death by stoning, whipping, and amputations for anyone, or violating the rights of people because of who they chose to love."

BRUNEIhotels thumbA composite images of hotels owned by Brunei's Sultan in London, Rome, Paris, and LA.Getty/AP/YouTube/TheDorchesterCollection

Five-star hotels, exotic vacations, and a 'sex-crazed' brother

Sultan Hassanal is one of the world's richest heads of state and is worth around $20 billion. The kingdom of Brunei is incredibly wealthy due to its oil reserves, and when it gained independence from Britain in 1984, the country had one of the highest per-capita incomes in the world, The New York Times reported.

In the 1980s, the sultan and his younger brother, Prince Jefri, raced their Ferraris through the Bruneian capital of Bandar Seri Begawan, sailed on yachts, and bought luxury hotels and companies around the world, Vanity Fair reported in 2010.

The brothers also "allegedly sent emissaries to comb the globe for the sexiest women they could find in order to create a harem the likes of which the world had never known," Vanity Fair added.

Read more: In Brunei, a tiny nation built on oil money, half the capital city's population lives in an otherworldly 'water village' where thousands of houses stand on monsoon-proof stilts

Since the introduction of the new anti-gay laws, celebrities and activists have called for a global boycott of many of the sultan's properties, including Hotel Bel-Air in Los Angeles, The Dorchester in London, and Le Meurice in Paris.

brunei sultan hassanal prince jefriBrunei's Sultan Hassanal Bolkiah (C), his youngest brother Prince Jefri (R), and his eldest son Crown Prince Al-Muhtadee Billah (front L) lead the Maulidur Rasul parade in Bandar Seri Begawan February 15, 2011Ahim Rani/Reuters

Prince Jefri has also been referred to by British and American media as a "sex-crazed prince" after a court case revealed that he had displayed in his Long Island mansion six life-sized statues of him and his then-fiancée having sex.

The judge in the case ruled that photographs of the statues could not be shown to the jury, The Guardian reported at the time.

Though Sultan Hassanal and Prince Jefri have since fallen out, over the prince's alleged mismanagement of Brunei's state funds, the sultan's immediate family has not shied away from displays of wealth and opulence.

Sultan Hassanal's son, Prince Abdul Mateen, regularly posts photos of himself going on exotic vacations, playing polo, and wearing expensive watches.

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