Mystery surrounds the arrest of Qatar’s powerful finance minister

Bloomberg described the arrest as “unusual, because allegations of criminal conduct by senior state officials or members of ruling families in the Gulf are typically addressed behind closed doors.”
Friday 07/05/2021
Qatari Minister of Finance Ali Shareef Al-Emadi attends the St. Petersburg International Economic Forum (SPIEF), Russia, June 6, 2019. (REUTERS)
Qatari Minister of Finance Ali Shareef Al-Emadi attends the St. Petersburg International Economic Forum (SPIEF), Russia, June 6, 2019. (REUTERS)

DOHA - The decision of the Qatari authorities to arrest Minister of Finance Ali Shareef al-Emadi on suspicion of involvement in corruption and abuse of power has raised a number of questions.

Regional experts wonder if there is more than meets the eye to the circumstances that led to fall from grace of the powerful finance minister.

Qatar watchers were surprised by the arrest of the minister, long described as the right arm of the Emir of Qatar Sheikh Tamim bin Hamad Al Thani.

Emadi’s rise was linked to that of Sheikh Tamim who assigned him key state financial portfolios.

He has served as minister of finance since 2013 and sits on the board of its powerful $300 billion sovereign wealth fund, the Qatar Investment Authority.

He is also chairman of the board of directors of Qatar National Bank, the largest lender in the Middle East and Africa.

Emadi is also the chairman of the Qatar Airways board of directors and chairman of the Investment Committee, as well as the secretary general of the Supreme Council for Economic Affairs and Investment.

A Qatari source told The Arab Weekly that no one in Doha believed that the close relationship between the emir and the finance minister could end so dramatically.

The source, who preferred to remain anonymous, said that Emadi played important roles in support of Sheikh Tamim at the beginning of his rule, including his success in “blocking the influence” of former prime minister and foreign minister Sheikh Hamad bin Jassim and those around him.

He played a similar role in sidelining important figures from the Al-Misnad family (the family of Sheikh Tamim’s mother, Sheikha Mozah) and keeping them away from major government structures and companies, in order to curb their influence.

The source added that Emadi has been a crucial pillar in the financial system that came with the accession to the throne of Emir Tamim.  He also received a lot of attention for his role  in channelling Qatari support to various Islamist groups over the years.

Sacrificing him simply for irregularities and violations within in the ministry of finance is implausible say experts who believe the matter may be related to broader issues to do with the whole gamut of Qatari financial institutions and not just the ministry.

The Financial Times reported that allegations against Emadi concern bribery and commissions related to government contracts, citing a source in Doha who “was briefed on the investigation”.

Some believe Emadi was no longer relevant for the ruling establishment after having carried out most of the tasks that were asked of him in the past.

Bloomberg said that recently there had been speculation that Emadi had fallen out of favour when “he was replaced as chairman of the Qatar Financial Centre — a platform through which most foreign financial firms working in the country are registered and among agencies that encourage foreign investment.”

Still, activists and analysts wondered how a minister, who was named as 2020 best minister in the region by international financial magazine The Banker, can move so quickly from an exemplary and loyal cabinet member to a corruption suspect.

Emirati researcher and professor of political science, Abdul Khaleq Abdullah, suspects hidden political motives behind the fall of the Qatari minister.  He explains the abrupt development  as the result of long-submerged score settling between prominent figures that have come into the open only now.

Abdullah told The Arab Weekly, “There are major players whose time has elapsed. We may hear more about this in the coming days.”

He added, “The Qatari minister of finance, accused of corruption and embezzlement of public funds, was considered the best finance minister in the Middle East a year ago, and Qatar is the second best Arab and Gulf country in the transparency and anti-corruption index after the UAE. Therefore, the news of his arrest by the attorney general is bewildering and astonishing.”

This is all-the-more so since there has never before been  such an arrest of a senior official on corruption charges in Qatar’s recent history.  Official sources confirm that Emadi is the most prominent figure to face such allegations during Sheikh Tamim’s rule.

Bloomberg described the arrest as “unusual, because allegations of criminal conduct by senior state officials or members of ruling families in the Gulf are typically addressed behind closed doors.”