Qatar finance minister arrested over embezzlement allegations

·2-min read
Qatar's Minister of Finance Ali Sherif Al Emadi speaks at the Qatar UK Business and Investment Forum in London

DUBAI (Reuters) -Qatar Finance Minister Ali Sherif al-Emadi was arrested over embezzlement allegations and stripped of his duties, officials said on Thursday.

In a statement carried by state news agency QNA, the public prosecutor said Emadi was being questioned over allegations of embezzlement, abuse of power and crimes related to the public sector. An investigation was under way.

The administrative office of Emir Sheikh Tamim bin Hamad al-Thani said the Emir had relieved Emadi of his duties, which would now be handled by the trade and industry minister, Ali bin Ahmed Al Kuwari.

Emadi has been minister of finance in the wealthy Gulf Arab state since 2013 and sits on the board of its powerful $300 billion sovereign wealth fund, the Qatar Investment Authority (QIA).

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

Foreign Minister and QIA chairman Sheikh Mohammed bin Abdulrahman Al-Thani said the investigation was related to Emadi's capacity as finance minister, and not to his posts at either the sovereign fund or the bank.

"There are no allegations related to his roles in any other entities. We are confident that our companies and entities are running the highest levels of corporate governance and we are conducting regular reviews and audits for the governance of our companies," Sheikh Mohammed said.

"Business is continuing as usual in our companies and our sovereign wealth fund," he added. He declined to provide further details of what he described as an ongoing investigation.

There was not immediate comment from the QNB and the QIA.

Emadi steered Qatar's economic policies during the 2014-2015 oil price crash that prompted the tiny nation - as well as other Gulf countries - to accelerate plans to diversify the economy.

Qatar, a leading producer of liquefied natural gas, saw its economy shrink by 3.7% last year during the coronavirus pandemic and lower global energy demand.

However, the contraction was less severe than expected and the smallest in the Gulf region, according to the International Monetary Fund. Emadi was named as 2020’s best minister in the region by The Banker, an international financial magazine.

Qatar, which next year will host the men's soccer World Cup, has invested heavily in infrastructure over the past few years ahead of the event, which means spending on major projects is set to decrease this year.

(Reporting by Aziz El Yaakoubi, Davide Barbuscia, Alaa Swilam and Omar Fahmy in Cairo; Editing by Peter Graff and Grant McCool)