The 2022 World Cup has sparked not only controversy but also fresh questions about how the host nation acquired its enormous wealth – and where that wealth goes.
The state’s sovereign wealth fund, the Qatar Investment Authority (QIA), has an estimated $450bn (£375bn) of assets. And these assets include £40bn of holdings and investments in the UK, from which Qatar gained independence in 1971.
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Who owns Qatar?
The QIA board of directors is headed up by the Emir of Qatar, Sheikh Tamim bin Hamad Al-Thani, who has an estimated personal fortune of $2bn.
The Al-Thani family “has ruled Qatar since the country was founded”, said The Sun, and is believed to have a collective net worth of around $335bn.
The extraordinary wealth of the royals and their nation is largely down to liquified natural gas, of which Qatar is the world’s second-largest exporter.
While Qatar is only “the size of Yorkshire, it sits on a pool of fossil fuels”, said the i news site. This colossal revenue stream pours “vast sums into the coffers of the Qatari state” that have been further “boosted by rocketing demand and prices caused by the Ukraine war”.
What does Qatar own?
Qatar “boasts massive global holdings”, said CNBC. Assets in the UK include Harrods, which Qatar bought in 2010, a 20% stake in London Heathrow, and 25% ownership of British Airways’s parent company IAG . Qatar-backed entities have also snapped up property assets including Canary Wharf, HSBC Tower and The Shard.
Qatar’s grip “reaches far into the British state”, said i news, with other holdings ranging from The Ritz hotel to “an industrial unit in the West Sussex town of Crawley and an Essex farm”.
“Such is the concentration of luxury homes and offices belonging to Qatari nationals in one part of London’s Mayfair that it is known among estate agents as ‘Little Doha’,” the site added. These properties include Dudley House, a £200m mansion owned by “horseracing mogul” Sheikh Hamad bin Abdullah al-Thani which is of “such opulence” that the late Queen Elizabeth is said to have remarked during a visit: “This place makes Buckingham Palace look rather dull.”
A recent audit by The Observer found that the Qataris’ British property empire has “ballooned” into a “sprawling portfolio likely to be worth in excess of £10bn”. The ruling family holds more than 4,000 land titles on everything from “luxury mansions and hotels” to “obscure industrial estates and terraced houses”, according to the paper.
The Middle Eastern country is also tightening its hold on British businesses. The QIA has a 14.3% stake in Sainsbury’s and is also “the largest shareholder in banking giant Barclays with a 6.4% stake”, said This is Money.
The site reported that Qatar’s other “major investments” include a 7% stake in the London Stock Exchange Group; 4.6% in water firm Severn Trent, and a 0.5% stake in Shell.
Further afield, the QIA has a 9.9% stake in Empire State Realty Trust, the owner of the Empire State Building. And in 2016, the sovereign wealth fund bought the iconic Asia Square towers from BlackRock for $2.5bn – the biggest office transaction in Singapore’s history.
Qatar has made various sport and entertainment-related investments too, as well as pumping hundreds of billions into hosting the World Cup. Qatari media group BeIN purchased Miramax Studios in 2016 for an undisclosed amount, and Qatar Sports Investments has owned Paris Saint-Germain football club since 2011.
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