Qatari media tiptoes around reporting of Hamad bin Jassim, Barclays scandal

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Qatari media tiptoed around covering the role of former Prime Minister Hamad bin Jassim in their reporting of the Barclays scandal, where four former Barclays Bank executives were charged with conspiring to commit fraud by hiding £322 million of payments to Qatar in return for cash injections in 2008.

Qatar Holding, part of Qatar’s sovereign wealth fund, and Challenger, the gulf state’s former Prime Minister Hamad bin Jassim’s private investment company, had invested more than 3.9 billion pounds as part of a multi-billion pound rescue package for the UK bank to avert a British State bailout.

According to prosecutors, the Qatari billionaire had pushed for a personal commission from Barclays to secure Qatari investment in the bank.

The arrangement, where the then-prime minister of Qatar was to receive fees from Barclays, was described in a conversation between two of the charged bank executives as “dodgy” according to phone transcripts.

Some of the executives also joked about the possibility of going to jail if the Qatari deal did not play by the rules.

Al Jazeera reported that the bankers used side deals to “induce” the Qataris to invest, in a desperate attempt to keep the bank afloat, mentioning that their competitors Royal Bank of Scotland and Lloyds were forced to go “cap in hand” to the UK government.

According to The Guardian, the Qataris took full advantage of this, with Jassim pushing to be the greatest beneficiary.

The newspaper reported that the prosecutors for the Serious Fraud Office presented internal emails and phone calls to a jury at Southwark Crown Court, detailing discussions on how the bank wanted to disclose Sheikh Hamad bin Jassim bin Jaber al-Thani’s planned stake in the bank via his British Virgin Islands-based investment vehicle, Challenger.

In a phone call played to the jury, the bank’s former head of European financial institutions group, Richard Boath, recalls Jassim telling the bank’s executives that “he’d like his family to have some shares in Barclays.”

The court was also presented with an email exchange between Boath and Jassim’s head of legal, Ahmad al-Sayad, where Sayad told him that “HE (His Excellency) wants to have a very low profile” and “would prefer that HE’s BVI-based investment vehicle be our fifth investor and sign its own subscription agreement.”

According to The Guardian, Boath in turn “reminded him that we would be required to disclose the identity of this vehicle”. Sayad responded that Barclays “should find a way to finesse this in order to keep HE under the radar”.

In a separate email read to the jury on Monday, Boath said Sayad said he was “happy” with disclosure of the investment as long as there “wasn’t evidence” as to “precisely who owned the… vehicle”.

But Shepherd insisted in a call that there was a general obligation for fair disclosure. “We have to tell the truth, not only in circumstances where we think we wouldn’t get found out, we have to tell the truth because that’s what we have to do.”

Influential figure

Despite stepping down from his positions in government in 2013, Hamad bin Jassim, a leading member of the royal family, and an avid investor with stakes in many strong businesses such as Qatar Airways, remains a diplomat representing the Qatari nation, and is still linked to Qatar Investment Authority assets.

Former Emir of Qatar Hamad bin Khalifa is said to have summed up Jassim’s power with a quip: “I may run this country, but he owns it.”

Jassim was chairman of the Qatar Electricity & Water Company, Qatari Diar Real Estate Company, and Qatar Sovereign Fund, and a board member of Qatar Petroleum.

Jassim is also on the diplomatic list of Qataris in the UK, under the title minister-counsellor, which refers to the deputy head of a mission.

This means that he enjoys diplomatic immunity in the UK which stipulates that he has “immunity from the criminal jurisdiction of the receiving state.”

Al Jazeera’s brief article on the trial did not mention the details of the court’s proceedings.

While Qatar was not yet accused of any wrongdoing in court, new evidence concerning the email exchanges between Jassim’s legal head and Boath may open new avenues in the case.

All four Barclays executives have denied the charges in the trial, which is expected to last up to six months.