Qatar’s finance minister has been arrested for questioning on charges of abuse of power and misuse of public funds, in an unprecedented move by the authorities in the Gulf-rich gas-rich state, as part of his efforts to boost transparency and fight corruption.
The public prosecutor has opened an investigation into allegations of embezzlement by Ali Sharif al-Emadi, according to a statement transmitted by the state news agency.
Emadi, who took office eight years ago and is one of the most important officials of the Gulf state, has not been indicted. The allegations relate to receiving bribes and commissions in connection with government contracts, a person in Doha said briefly about the investigation.
The investigation is focused on Emadi’s ministerial behavior, and not on other positions of the former banker educated in the USA, that person added. Emadi is also a board member of the Qatar Investment Authority, the state’s influential state wealth fund that manages about $ 300 billion in assets, and the chairman of the Qatari National Bank, the country’s largest lender.
Qatar, run by the ruling al-Thani family, is one of the richest countries in the world and is set to host next year’s World Cup. The Sheikhdom, home to the U.S. regional military headquarters, is a Gulf monarchy that nonetheless supported pro-democracy Islamist movements during the 2010/11 Arab uprisings, harassing its neighbors.
The emir, Sheikh Tamim bin Hamad al-Thani, has made the fight against corruption the theme of his rule since his father abdicated in 2013. “Development can only achieve its goals through good governance, the rule of law, the fight against corruption and injustice,” he said in a 2017 speech.
The arrest is “very unusual – previous ministers prosecuted for corruption have never received arrest warrants,” said one Western observer based in Doha. “They were persecuted only after their terms expired – and that was always kept secret.” Doha was buzzing about the shocking news on Thursday, especially since Emadi was “very strongly connected,” the observer said, although budget cuts made him unpopular.
The arrest comes as the emir prepares the country for the long-delayed elections in October. The poll will be for an advisory body acting as an empowered parliament. Qatar also wanted to promote better governance as it prepares to host the World Cup. The country’s reputation has been affected by allegations by Fr. myth and worker abuse related to his hosting a football tournament.
Qatar ranks 30th in Transparency International’s 2020 Corruption Perceptions Index, linked to the Bahamas and ahead of Spain. The only country in the Middle East that is considered less corrupt is the United Arab Emirates.
Transparency has risen on the country’s agenda during the 2017 Saudi-led trade and travel embargo against Qatar, which was resolved in January. The government is determined to act more openly in resolving these high-profile cases, said the person referred to the investigation.