Sale of New York's Plaza Hotel Could Subject It to Boycott

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2013.01.19 - Sherman and the Plaza Hotel
JBYoder/FlickrAn estimated $2.2 billion deal would give the Sultan of Brunei part ownership of New York's Plaza Hotel and two others.
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APHassanal Bolkiah, Sultan of Brunei
Celebrities may have another swank hotel to boycott. The Sultan of Brunei -- whose Beverly Hills Hotel in California has been boycotted because of his country's enforcement of Islamic law -- is part of a bid for the Plaza Hotel in New York. The Plaza, where the precocious and fictional 6-year-old Eloise lives in the "room on the tippy-top floor" in books titled with her name, is being bid on by a man who says his country's practice of punishing sodomy and adultery by death, via such means as stoning, is a "great achievement."

The estimated $2.2 billion deal would give Brunei's Sultan Hassanal Bolkiah part ownership of the Plaza Hotel and two others -- New York's Dream Hotel and the Grosvenor House Hotel in London. The sultan wouldn't have any say in the daily operations of the hotels, but would be the controlling owner in partnership with two other investors, according to reports.

The properties are being sold by jailed by Indian tycoon Subrata Roy to raise money for bail. Roy is jailed in New Delhi, in lieu of a $1.6 billion bail bond, on contempt-of-court charges related to billions in restitution that his group allegedly failed to repay to investors of illegal financial products.

Alan Light/FlickrEvents have been canceled at The Beverly Hills Hotel because of protests against Brunei's Shariah law.
The sultan's Beverly Hills Hotel has been in the middle of a controversy over his country's system of Shariah law, and in May the city of Beverly Hills voted to pressure the government of Brunei to divest the hotel after the country's imposition of fundamentalist tenets prompted protests at the iconic hotel. Stars such as Jay Leno, Elton John and Ellen DeGeneres, and British entrepreneur Richard Branson, boycotted the iconic hotel, which long has been a favorite spot for the Hollywood elite, and which was famously featured on the cover of the Eagles' "Hotel California" album.

About a week before the boycott, Brunei had adopted the strict interpretation of Islamic criminal law, which also prompted concerns from the U.S. State Department. Abortions and same-sex relationships are now subject to punishment by flogging and stoning in Brunei, and conviction for theft can result in amputation.

Events have been canceled at the Beverly Hills Hotel because of the protests. They include the Motion Picture and Television Fund's annual "Night Before the Oscars" charity event and the Feminist Majority Foundation's annual Global Women's Rights Awards.

The hotel's owner was also asked by the gay rights advocacy group, Human Rights Campaign, to stop promoting special services at the hotel for same-sex weddings, which are legal in California. The protests in California have apparently fallen on deaf ears, as the sultan now wants to expand his country's hotel holdings in posh, storied hotels with the proposed acquisition of the Plaza. The same gay rights advocacy group that protested at the Beverly Hills Hotel has asked New Yorkers to oppose the sale of the Plaza to the sultan.

Roy, who owns his stake in the Plaza as part of the Sahara Group, acquired a controlling stake in 2012 for around $430 million, according to The Wall Street Journal. Saudi billionaire Prince al-Waleed bin Talal owns a 25 percent stake in the property, and it's unclear if he would maintain that stake if Sahara sells.

Aside from the "Eloise" books and movie, the Plaza has been a setting in "The Great Gatsby," Alfred Hitchcock's "North by Northwest" (where Cary Grant's character is kidnapped after a drink at the Oak Bar), and Neil Simon's "Plaza Suite."

The Royal Plaza Suite rents for $30,000 a night and has three bedrooms and 3.5 baths in 4,490 square feet. It includes a living room with a grand piano, dining room for 12 people, library, kitchen, gym, and a master bedroom overlooking Fifth Avenue. It has plenty of space for a 6-year-old girl to play in for years.
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