Is Qatar's Wealth Fund The World's Biggest Family Office?

Photo by typhoonski/iStock / Getty Images
Photo by typhoonski/iStock / Getty Images

The Qatar Investment Authority might be classified as a sovereign wealth fund but it looks to be increasingly acting more like a family office for the ruling family of Qatar, the Al-Thanis.

Last month, the emir of Qatar appointed family member Sheikh Abdullah Bin Mohammed Bin Saud Al-Thani as its new chief executive. He replaced non-family Ahmad Al-Sayed, who had been in the position for just over a year.

The emir, Sheikh Hamad bin Khalifa Al Thani, has also appointed other members of the Al-Thani family to top positions including the QIA’s chairman and vice chairman.

The QIA is a big sovereign wealth fund with an estimated $300bn under management; it is also one of the least transparent investment funds in the world, which further suggests it has more in common with a single-family office than a sovereign wealth fund. The consulting firm GeoEconomica last year rated the QIA as second-to-last when it comes to transparency and good corporate governance practices. And a look at its website suggests it doesn’t encourage a great deal of openness in its communications efforts.

QIA, through its direct investment arm, Qatar Holding, has invested in many high profile brands including the Volkswagen Group, Credit Suisse, Barclays and London department store Harrods. It also owns vast amounts of property and is rumoured to be among the top five property owners in London. Last year it bought the global headquarters of HSBC for £1.1bn, the biggest ever single building transaction in the London property market.

The QIA might be huge in terms of assets under management, but it’s also got a few family members to feed. According to various estimates the Al Thani family with its various factions comprises at least 3,000 individuals - that gives each family member a $100m stake in the fund. Of course, it’s unlikely to be divided so evenly - and the Al Thani family will always say the QIA is for the benefit of the country, not the family. But in Qatar the two are closely related.