The Qatar News Agency announced on Thursday, December 4th that Sheikh Abdullah bin Mohamed bin Saud al-Thani will take over from Ahmed al-Sayed as the new head of the Qatar Investment Authority. Today’s announcement is not especially surprising, however, as the Qatar Investment Authority, which manages around $300 billion, including major stakes in Barclays, Credit Suisse and London-based Harrods, had been widely expected to appoint a member of the Qatari royal family to replace the current chief executive.
The new chief Sheikh Abdullah is currently chairman of Ooredoo, a Gulf telecoms company, and is a former head of the royal court.
Of note, just a few weeks ago QIA signed a contract to buy HSBC’s global headquarters for £1.1 billion, the highest price paid for a single building in the history of the London real estate market.
Spring cleaning in Qatar
Many in the business sector in Qatar see the replacement of Sayed as QIA chief as part of the new emir’s effort to place his own people into senior government positions. “This is about a spring clean against the old guard,” commented a Qatari businessman.
Sayed was also generally regarded as having been “too close” to the ex-prime minister Hamad bin Jassem, who resigned when the former emir abdicated just over a year ago this month.
QIA has poor record on transparency and governance
Financial industry analysts note that QIA has emerged as a very active global investor since it was founded by the Gulf state in 2005. The authority is charged with using the country’s vast oil and gas riches to invest in a diversified portfolio of long-term holdings. But QIA’s emergence as a major global investor has not been without a few hiccups and criticism.
The net result in that QIA is ranked as the least transparent and least likely to comply with corporate governance norms among the 31 sovereign wealth funds who have signed on to the Santiago Principles, based to an October survey of industry professionals by consulting firm GeoEconomica.