Qatar's finance minister, Ali Cherif al-Emadi, has been relieved of his duties after being arrested for abuse of power and embezzlement of public funds. Qatar's emir replaced the finance minister after his arrest, according to a royal statement on Thursday, following state media reports on the case.
The official Qatari news agency QNA said Thursday night, referring to a decree by the emir, Tamim bin Hamad al-Thani “relieved Ali Cherif al-Emadi of his duties as Minister of Finance and entrusted Ali ben Ahmed al-Kuwari, Minister of Trade and Industry, in addition to these prerogatives , the care to ensure also those of Minister of Finance“.
The prosecutor said earlier that al-Emadi was being questioned over allegations of embezzlement, abuse of power and public sector offences. According to a statement from the official state news agency, an investigation is ongoing. A few hours earlier, state media reported that “the Attorney General (had) ordered the arrest of Finance Minister Ali Cherif al-Emadi (for) questioning him regarding reports of public service crimes involving public officials. wrongs with regard to public funds, abuse of office and abuse of power “.
Emirati researcher and professor of political science, Abdul Khaleq Abdullah, suspects hidden political motives behind the fall of the Qatari minister. He explains the abrupt development as the result of long-submerged score settling between prominent figures that have come into the open only now.Abdullah told The Arab Weekly, “There are major players whose time has elapsed. We may hear more about this in the coming days.”
He added, “The Qatari minister of finance, accused of corruption and embezzlement of public funds, was considered the best finance minister in the Middle East a year ago, and Qatar is the second best Arab and Gulf country in the transparency and anti-corruption index after the UAE. Therefore, the news of his arrest by the attorney general is bewildering and astonishing".
While there have been previous high-level arrests in corruption cases in Qatar, official sources said Emadi is the highest-profile figure to face such allegations under the current rule of Emir Sheikh Tamim bin Hamad Al-Thani. The arrest of Al-Emadi, who took over the finance ministry in 2013, is a rare move that analysts say could herald a wider campaign to increase transparency and root out corruption at the sheikhdom.
Al-Emadi rose to prominence in the Gulf Arab emirate when the current emir ascended to the throne and after overseeing the transformation of Qatar National Bank into the Middle East's largest lender. He is one of Qatar's most powerful officials, who also served as chairman of the bank, on the board of Qatar's sovereign wealth fund and as chairman of the executive board of long-haul airline Qatar Airways. According to the Las Vegas-based Sovereign Wealth Fund Institute, the Qatar Investment Authority has assets of $295 billion.
Without explanation, he was recently replaced as chairman of the Qatar Financial Centre, a body that regulates foreign investment firms in the country. A Qatari diplomat told AFP that "the arrest was unexpected". He added that "It is always good to see governments upholding their laws and cracking down on corruption and abuse of power".
Another Doha-based diplomat told AFP: "This is actually great, it shows Qatar is taking corruption seriously -- if that is what it is found to be -- and helps build the image of the rule of law being complied with." Hussein Ibish, a Gulf expert based in Washington, said Thursday that it was “quite remarkable” that Emadi was arrested “on suspicion of corruption and embezzlement”.
Al-Emadi was praised for avoiding a devaluation of the local currency in the face of extreme external pressure, liquidating nearly a quarter of Qatar's economic reserves to weather the storm. Activists and observers wondered how the minister, who was awarded the 2020 Best Finance Minister in the Middle East by The Pinker magazine, could so quickly and easily go from exemplary minister to one accused of corruption.
Qatar's economy, which bore the full brunt of the economic blockade imposed by Saudi Arabia and three of its allies: the United Arab Emirates, Bahrain and Egypt, had been managed by Al-Emadi since 2013. The allied trio accused Doha of supporting Islamist groups classified as 'terrorists' by the Gulf states and of having too close relations with Iran, a regional rival of the Saudi kingdom, these four countries cut ties with this country in June 2017, on which they had also imposed a blockade. This dispute lasted more than three years before the countries reconciled in January.