Prince Charles' links to Qatar are once again in question after accepting cash from sheikh

Prince Charles and Camilla, Duchess of Cornwall, show Sheikh Hamad bin Jassim around exhibits from the Royal Collection at Windsor Castle during his state visit on October 26, 2010 - WPA/Getty
Prince Charles and Camilla, Duchess of Cornwall, show Sheikh Hamad bin Jassim around exhibits from the Royal Collection at Windsor Castle during his state visit on October 26, 2010 - WPA/Getty

Prince Charles’s friendship with the former Qatari prime minister once dubbed “the man who bought London” has a history of landing him in murky water.

More than a decade after the Prince of Wales was chastised by a High Court Judge for calling on Sheikh Hamad bin Jassim bin Jaber Al Thani to intervene in the development of Chelsea Barracks, the pair’s relationship has again come under the spotlight.

It emerged this weekend that the heir to the throne accepted bags full of cash from “HBJ”, as Sheikh Hamad is known, which was deposited in the accounts of the Prince of Wales's Charitable Fund.

While there is no suggestion of any wrongdoing, the future King is facing questions over the propriety of accepting cash from a one of the world’s richest men, whose leadership of the Gulf State coincided with allegations of terrorist financing.

Sheikh Hamad has said that while he was in office the country “maybe” financed the Syrian branch of Al Qaeda, known as the Al-Nusra Front.

The Qataris have also been dogged by allegations of bribery and corruption in their successful bid to host this year’s World Cup, though Sheikh Hamad’s role has never been examined.

Despite the controversies, the Prince of Wales made three official tours of the gas-rich state during the same period that Sheikh Hamad gave him 3 million euros, the equivalent of £2.58 million, in private meetings that do not appear in the court circular.

It is the second scandal the heir to the throne is facing this year after the Metropolitan police launched a criminal investigation into an alleged cash for honours scandal involving Michael Fawcett, one of the Prince’s closest confidants.

It is alleged Mr Fawcett worked with fixers to secure a CBE for Saudi billionaire Mahfouz Marei Mubarak bin Mahfouz, who had given more than £1.5 million to the Prince’s Foundation charity.

Donations under the spotlight

Now, donations to the Prince's charitable fund, which helps to bankroll his pet projects, including his Scottish residence Dumfries House, are also under the spotlight.

Three million euros was handed over in three installments between 2011 and 2015, the Sunday Times reported.

The donations are alleged to have begun a year after the Prince of Wales was dragged into a court battle between the Qataris and developer Christian Candy.

It emerged that he had called on the ruling al-Thani family to withdraw plans for a “brutalist” redevelopment of the Chelsea Barracks that they had invested £3 billion in.

His intervention, later described by a High Court judge as “unwelcome”, began with a letter to Sheikh Hamad in which he told him he would be “eternally” grateful if he stopped the plans “before it is too late”.

The letter was followed up by tea at Clarence House with the emir, which it was alleged in court put the final nail in the coffin of plans that were scrapped at considerable cost and replaced with more traditional ones.

Qatari prime minister Hamad bin Jassim bin Jaber Al Thani at a press conference in Germany in 2013 - Odd Andersen/AFP
Qatari prime minister Hamad bin Jassim bin Jaber Al Thani at a press conference in Germany in 2013 - Odd Andersen/AFP

Sheikh Hamad, the former emir's cousin, who is reported to be worth up to £8 billion, served first as minister of foreign affairs from 1992 and from 2007 to 2013 he combined the office with that of prime minister.

He was once described as the “man who bought London” as while he was head of the Qatar Investment Authority, the Sheikh put money in Sainsbury’s, Barclays, Shell and the London Stock Exchange.

They also own Harrods, Paris Saint-Germain football club, and property including London’s Shard and Park Lane’s InterContinental Hotel.

Sheikh Hamad was said to have taken personal control of the deals and his “soft power” moves were credited with making Qatar a global player, and a friend of everyone.

The 62-year-old is now understood to spend most of his time in London, where he has diplomatic immunity.

It is that immunity that prevented British citizen Fawaz al-Attiya, a former spokesman of the emirate, from taking action against him for allegedly ordering his kidnap and torture. The High Court agreed that because of his diplomatic role they had no jurisdiction in the case, in which the sheikh denied any wrongdoing.

He has not responded to requests for comment on the cash donations to Prince Charles.

Expensive gift

It is not the first gift from the Qataris to Prince Charles, after he and the Duchess of Cornwall were given a horse named Dark Swan, worth £147,000.

It was seen as part of a plan by the Qataris' to position themselves as close to the royals as possible as they set up a central role for themselves at the apex of British life by investing billions in the country.

A relative of Sheik Hamad, Sheik Hamad bin Abdullah al-Thani, even helped pay for the upkeep of the Castle of Mey, bought by the Queen Mother and used by Prince Charles as a weekend retreat.

A number of members of the ruling family have also met the Queen and others in the Royal family at private gatherings.

The relationship with the Gulf state has long been an important one for the UK, and last year the energy minister claimed that it has $50 billion of investments in Britain and delivers 90 per cent of the UK’s imports of liquefied natural gas.

The Prince of Wales, like all working royals, plays an important role in promoting the UK's interests abroad.

When he visited Qatar in 2015, for the third year in a row, the ambassador said that he was glad he was able to attend “so soon after his last visit”, which demonstrated the “commitment to the closest possible partnership and friendship at the most senior levels”.

At the time the visit was defended on the basis it was at the request of the British Government, with the Prince required to tread a careful path in a country blockaded by its neighbours over its links to Islamist groups and Iran.

But over the years he has been mired in allegations of "cash for access" and of improper use of his influence.

The emergence of private meetings in which bags full of cash were handed over will once again call into question the judgement of the future king.