A report by the US’ Carnegie Endowment for International Peace, ranked Qatar Investment Authority among the world’s least transparent sovereign wealth funds, far below that of China, Azerbaijan and Timor Leste. The lack of disclosure is not unique to Qatar; Kuwait’s wealth fund fared only marginally better.
Together with two Russian wealth funds, Kuwait and Qatar represent about 20 per cent of the total assets under management by sovereign funds worldwide, yet, as Carnegie says, they provide only rudimentary information about their activities.
The acquisition of prized assets by newly wealthy nations, such as Qatar’s buyout in May of the Harrods store in London, can cause unease in the world’s mature economies. Even more so in the current economic turmoil.
Greater openness would dispel such fears. Qatar, in its most recent acquisition, has not bought a trophy asset. Rather, it has bought a world-famous established brand, made more attractive by the pound’s weakness. It complements a string of investments in solid business ventures in the UK that include stakes in a leading supermarket chain and the London Stock Exchange. It forms part of Doha’s strategy to use its oil and gas revenues to build a diversified income stream from business areas that have not yet developed sufficiently back home. It is not a political move. But suspicions of ulterior motives will linger as long as the funds continue to shroud themselves in mystery.