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Qatar finance minister arrested in corruption investigation

May 6, 2021 GMT
FILE - In this Sept. 14, 2020 file photo, Qatar's Finance Minister Ali Sharif al-Emadi listens during the third annual U.S.-Qatar Strategic Dialogue at the State Dept. in Washington. Qatar's public prosecutor has ordered the arrest of al-Emadi, state-run media reported Thursday, May 6, 2021, to question him over alleged abuse of power and misuse of public funds in the energy-rich state. (Erin Scott/Pool via AP, File)
FILE - In this Sept. 14, 2020 file photo, Qatar's Finance Minister Ali Sharif al-Emadi listens during the third annual U.S.-Qatar Strategic Dialogue at the State Dept. in Washington. Qatar's public prosecutor has ordered the arrest of al-Emadi, state-run media reported Thursday, May 6, 2021, to question him over alleged abuse of power and misuse of public funds in the energy-rich state. (Erin Scott/Pool via AP, File)
FILE - In this Sept. 14, 2020 file photo, Qatar's Finance Minister Ali Sharif al-Emadi listens during the third annual U.S.-Qatar Strategic Dialogue at the State Dept. in Washington. Qatar's public prosecutor has ordered the arrest of al-Emadi, state-run media reported Thursday, May 6, 2021, to question him over alleged abuse of power and misuse of public funds in the energy-rich state. (Erin Scott/Pool via AP, File)

DUBAI, United Arab Emirates (AP) — Qatar’s finance minister was being questioned over alleged abuse of power and misuse of public funds in the energy-rich state after the attorney general ordered him arrested, state-run media reported Thursday.

The detention of Ali Sharif al-Emadi is a rare move that analysts said could herald a larger campaign to increase transparency and root out graft in the sheikhdom.

The Qatar News Agency said the attorney general had ordered al-Emadi detained but did not provide other details about the graft case involving the minister, who has held the post since 2013.

The statement said authorities had launched an investigation into “crimes related to the public sector,” but it wasn’t clear whether al-Emadi himself was facing any charges. Al-Emadi could not be immediately reached for comment.

Al-Emadi rose to prominence in the Gulf Arab emirate as the current emir ascended the throne and after overseeing the transformation of Qatar National Bank into the largest lender in the Middle East. One of Qatar’s most powerful officials, he also serves as chairman of the bank, on the board of Qatar’s sovereign wealth fund and as president of the executive board of long-haul carrier Qatar Airways. According to the Las Vegas-based Sovereign Wealth Fund Institute, the Qatar Investment Authority holds assets of $295 billion.

Without explanation, he recently was replaced as chairman of the Qatar Financial Center, a body that regulates foreign investment firms in the country.

Last year, The Banker magazine, a prominent British-based financial publication, named al-Emadi “best minister” in Middle East and North Africa, citing his deft navigation of various crises, including the pandemic-induced collapse in demand for oil and natural gas and the yearslong boycott of the state by Gulf Arab neighbors.

Corruption remains rampant in Gulf Arab sheikhdoms flush with petrodollars and in the wider Middle East. In its 2020 corruption perceptions index, which surveys economic experts about the perceived level of public sector corruption, corruption watchdog Transparency International listed Qatar among the least corrupt in the region, with a score of 63 out of 100. The scale ranks countries between zero, which is “highly corrupt,” and 100, for “very clean.”

That authorities made the unusual decision to publicize al-Emadi’s detention signals that “the effort is intentionally designed to be an open one that impacts future behavior of ministers, government officials, and members of the private sector,” wrote analyst Sofia Meranto at Eurasia Group, a political research and consulting firm. “In terms of the Qatari economy, there will be a shock in the system.”

Qatar, a country of 2.8 million people, is preparing to open its doors to 1.5 million soccer fans next year as the host of the 2022 World Cup. The tiny state is overseeing massive national infrastructure projects worth hundreds of billions of dollars for the event. Qatar’s bid has been stained by allegations of bribery and concerns over the mistreatment of migrant workers.

Under Sheikh Tamim bin Hamad Al Thani, the ruling emir, Qatar recently has sought to boost its international reputation and promote political reforms. In a first, the country announced it will hold elections for its national legislative body, known as the Shura Council, in October.