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Buddy can you spare $1bln? Cable shows Qatar gaffe

Buddy can you spare $1bln? Cable shows Qatar gaffe

Qatar sought $1.0-1.7 bln from oil, other firms – cable; Donations requested for flagship Sidra Medical Center; Companies "shocked and angered" by letters sent in 2008

March 22, 2011 5:49 by

Qatar, one of the world’s richest nations, stunned international oil companies in 2008 by asking them for more than $1 billion to help pay for a new medical centre, according to a leaked U.S. diplomatic cable.

The cash call angered companies involved, including Exxon Mobil and Royal Dutch Shell, and baffled U.S. officials, who saw it as a bad miscalculation by the energy ministry and Sheikha Mozah bint Nasser Al Missned, wife of the country’s ruler.

The massive donations suggested for the Sidra Medical Center project, which is chaired by Sheikha Mozah and due to open in 2012, were particularly startling since Qatar is viewed as one of the most open and modern states in the Middle East.

That reputation helped the tiny gas-rich country win the right to host the soccer World Cup in 2022. Qatar has also been notably free of the unrest that has swept the region in recent months.

In most cases, the requests for Sidra were larger than the entire amount spent worldwide by companies on corporate social responsibility programmes for places like Africa.

Qatar certainly has no need of foreign aid. It has the world’s highest gross domestic product per head, averaging $88,000 in 2010, according to the International Monetary Fund.

“Qatar will soon — literally — have more money than it knows what to do with,” according to the U.S. cable from Sept. 2008, obtained by WikiLeaks and reviewed by Reuters.

Despite this, the country’s energy ministry requested at least $1.0 billion and possibly as much as $1.7 billion in donations from companies doing business with Qatar Petroleum to support construction of the new medical centre, the cable said.

Letters signed by Deputy Prime Minister Abdullah al-Attiyah gave specific amounts for the size of donation it was requesting, ranging from $280 million each for Exxon and A.P. Moller-Maersk to $80 million for smaller players like Total.

Other oil companies approached included ConocoPhillips, Occidental  and Q-Chem, as well as Microsoft and General Electric.

“The IOCs (international oil companies) are shocked and angered by the request,” the cable stated. “None of the U.S. IOCs are considering donations … and they are aware the perception of a quid pro quo could be construed as violating the Foreign Corrupt Practices Act.”

Record Endowment

Denmark’s Maersk told Reuters it was aware of discussions over possible donations to Sidra but Maersk Oil in Qatar had not given any firm commitments. Occidental also said it had no record of contributions to Sidra.

GE said it did not make any donation towards construction of Sidra and company spokeswoman Anne Eisele noted the U.S. conglomerate already operated its Qatar Advanced Technology and Research Center near the Sidra facility.

Exxon, Shell, Total, Conoco and Microsoft declined to comment, while Q-Chem did not respond to questions about the cable. The U.S. State Department and officials in Qatar also had no comment.

The flagship Sidra academic medical centre is the most ambitious component of Qatar’s extensive Education City complex, which has brought a number of leading universities to Doha.

Sidra is funded by a $7.9 billion endowment from the Qatar Foundation, the largest endowment for a medical and research centre anywhere in the world. The high-tech facility will open its doors to patients with 400 beds at the end of 2012.

The project has been championed from the start by Sheikha Mozah — second wife of Sheikh Hamad bin Khalifa al-Thani and mother of heir apparent Sheikh Tamim — who enjoys a uniquely high profile for a woman in public life in the Gulf.

Her influential role brings with it considerable power and the appeal for huge donations to Sidra “indicates that Sheikha Mozah is beginning to exert influence outside of her traditional lane of social/educational issues”, the U.S. embassy said.

In this case, though, it concluded that the government of Qatar had “badly miscalculated”.

Tiny Qatar has long wanted to punch above its weight, brokering peace talks in Sudan and seeking a larger voice in political affairs in the Gulf region. It has also been to the fore in agreeing to participate in military action over Libya in recent days.

The state’s ambitions on the regional and global stage have been buttressed by its immense wealth. Its sovereign wealth fund owns stakes in Credit Suisse and Barclays, as well as London’s iconic department store Harrods.

(Additional reporting by Mark Hosenball in Washington and Reuters bureaus)

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