Qatar finance minister arrested in corruption investigation

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 Qatar News Agency said the attorney general had ordered Ali Sharif 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 did not clarify 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 of Qatar after overseeing the growth of Qatar National Bank into the largest lender in the Middle East. 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.

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.

Arrests of such a high-ranking officials on suspicion of corruption are rare in Qatar. 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."

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.