Queen of Brunei Reportedly Gave Michelle Obama Jewels Worth $71,000
A Human Rights Campaign spokesman denounces the diplomatic gesture amid protests of the country's law against gays and adulterers
The queen of Brunei gave first lady Michelle Obama jewelry worth $71,468 in 2013, the most expensive gift recorded by the Obama administration for the year, according to the Associated Press.
The queen gave Obama flower-shaped white gold earrings, a ring and a necklace studded with yellow sapphires and diamonds, according to the department’s annual accounting of gifts published in the Federal Register, the AP reported.
Under federal ethics rules, the presents must be turned over to the government for storage or official use unless the recipient chooses to purchase the items from the General Services Administration. Few choose to do so.
Sultan Hassanal Bolkiah, the leader of the Southeast Asian nation of Brunei, has come under fire from Hollywood for enacting a Sharia law penal code in the country that includes harsh penalties for gays and adulterers. Bolkiah controls the Dorchester Collection of hotels via his Brunei Investment Agency, including the Beverly Hills Hotel.
The hotel properties have been subject to demonstrations and protests since April, and celebrities and companies including Jay Leno, Sharon Osbourne, Ellen DeGeneres and ICM Partners have issued public statements supporting the boycott. In May, The Hollywood Reporter pulled its annual Women in Entertainment event from the Beverly Hills Hotel.
In response to news of the gift, Human Rights Campaign spokesman Fred Sainz said the diplomatic gesture doesn't hold much weight.
"There's little no doubt that they'll be relegated to some plastic hamper in a dark and dingy warehouse -- which is exactly where they belong," Sainz told The Hollywood Reporter. "Over the top gifts from authoritarian potentates who stone their citizens to death is not something that civil societies should find acceptable.
"Gifts are a standard part of diplomacy. I can't imagine that they would think that $70K of gaudy jewelry would impact our condemnation of their barbarian laws," Sainz added. "Governments accept gifts from one another. It's standard. The good news is that these will never see the light of day."
Additional reporting by Tina Daunt.