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Quarterly Roundup & Outlook


Sultan scores a victory
Gas reserves in the Great Lake?
• Sultan of  Brunei Darussalam
The oil-rich country rarely makes headlines in Asean. But when it did it was among the most-read.

On August 7, tabloids and dailies alike from Australia to England ran on their front page the story of the Sultan of Brunei who won a court battle in Australia over an alleged agreement to buy a 400- year-old gold-lined miniature Koran for $8 million.

Some said Southeast Asian potentate’s extraordinary wealth has its limits. Once the world’s richest and now among the globe’s top-ten, The 61-year-old sultan had allegedly agreed to buy it as a wedding present for his third wife, a glamorous television hostess 32 years his junior, and then backed out of a deal with Australian businessmen to buy the matchbox-size holy book.

The Australians claimed to have bought the tiny treasure from a former colonel in the KGB, who told them the Ottoman Empire relic had been in his family’s possession for more than a century.

Since the Australian judge ruled that the case was outside the court’s jurisdiction and that the three businessmen should instead pursue it through Brunei’s legal system, the victory was the Sultan’s.

The prospects of the Aussies pursuing their case in Brunei is almost zero because the Sultan, a graduate of Sandhurst, is immune to prosecution in his tropical fiefdom, a former British protectorate on the north coast of Borneo.

The lawyers for the sultan had earlier argued that the case should be dismissed, calling it “a joke”.

Tonle Sap, or the Great Lake, apparently, Asean’s largest freshwater lake that touches six provinces, has attracted the attention of Cambodian authorities who believe the lake has onshore oil and gas reserves.

The government has set up a body to manage the lake located about 200 kilometers (120 miles) northwest of the capital Phnom Penh.

Tonle Sap, which covers about 250,000 hectares (618,000 acres) during the dry season and expands to about 1.25 million hectares (3 million acres) during the rainy season, holds a rich biosphere of more than 200 species of fish, 42 types of reptiles, 225 species of birds and 46 kinds of mammals.

The authorities won’t comment on their tasks or on prospective oil and gas reserves but promise that they will make sure there is no pollution from the exploration.

Environmentalists have expressed concern about the impact any future oil projects may have on the environment in the basin.

Numerous geological studies in the basin have been conducted to look for possible oil and gas reserves, which could help the country reduce poverty.

In 2005, US energy giant Chevron Corp. discovered oil off the Cambodian coast and plans to drill 10 more wells by the end of 2007.

Sceptics worry the income from oil could exacerbate the already widespread corruption.

• Slums on the bank of Tonle Sap

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