Qatar Freezes Assets of Six Businessmen in Gulf Nation’s Widening Crackdown
(Bloomberg) -- Qatar froze the assets of six local businessmen as part of a crackdown against high-ranking figures that began last week with the publicly announced arrest of the Gulf nation’s finance minister.
The six were named in a central bank circular distributed to financial institutions late last week, according to two people with knowledge of the matter who declined to be identified. The assets of Finance Minister Ali Sharif Al-Emadi, arrested Thursday over alleged abuse of power and misuse of public funds, were also frozen. Government officials declined to comment.
The moves come as Qatar, an energy-rich nation that’s among the world’s wealthiest per capita, presses ahead with preparations for next year’s soccer World Cup, an opportunity to showcase the country as a tourist and business destination. That the arrest of Al-Emadi was made public in a country that typically handles internal disputes behind closed doors has fueled speculation about the government’s motives.
“There might be some internal dynamics that we don’t know yet,” said Syed Basher, a former economist at the Qatari central bank who now teaches at East West University in Dhaka, Bangladesh. But this “sends a powerful message to all Qataris about the government’s newfound eagerness to fight corruption.”
As finance minister, Al-Emadi played a central role in budget allocation as the country plows money into World Cup preparations and projects designed to expand gas production capacity by 50% over the next six years. Appointed to the role a day after Sheikh Tamim bin Hamad Al Thani took over the Qatari leadership in June 2013, he was seen as close to the ruling family.
“This may be the start of the third shuffle of senior personnel in Qatar due to succession or anti-corruption in the last decade,” said Hasnain Malik, head of equity research at Tellimer, a London-based firm that provides analysis on emerging markets. “As with the last two, there is unlikely to be any lasting impact on the equity or debt markets.”
Qatar’s benchmark QE Index of biggest stocks rose 0.1% Monday, extending Sunday’s 0.4% gain. The yield on the country’s $5 billion of Eurobonds maturing 2050 rose two basis points to 3.40%.
Al-Emadi had a reputation as a stalwart of business, helping transform Qatar National Bank into the region’s biggest lender as its chief executive from 2007 to 2013 and currently serves as chairman of the bank’s board.
He is also on the board of Qatar Investment Authority, the country’s $300 billion sovereign wealth fund. While less active than some of its regional counterparts, the QIA holds stakes in some of the biggest companies including London Stock Exchange Group Plc, Volkswagen AG and Glencore Plc.
A spokesperson at Qatar’s government communications office in Doha who was contacted Sunday declined to comment on the asset freezes or provide more information about next steps in the investigation.
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