Qatari sheikh buys UK oil firm in violation of Vienna Convention – report

Former prime minister of Qatar, Sheikh Hamad bin Jassim al-Thani, bought an oil company while enjoying diplomatic immunity guaranteed by the Vienna Convention. This prohibits diplomats from profiting from “commercial activity.”

The sheikh acquired 80 percent of Heritage Oil, a London-listed exploration and production company in April 2014. An article published in the Telegraph on Wednesday says this was an abrogation of the sheikh’s diplomatic responsibilities.

In addition to serving as prime minister, Sheikh Hamad, one of Qatar’s richest men, was also chief of the country’s sovereign wealth fund. He stepped down from his government posts, when Qatar’s former emir Sheikh Hamad bin Khalifa al-Thani abdicated the throne in 2013.

Known as HBJ in the banking work, Sheikh Hamad first appeared on the London Diplomatic List as “Counsellor” for the Qatar embassy six months after resigning, and then as “Minister-Counsellor” in November 2014.

The former emir also appeared on the list under the same title. Immunity and diplomatic protection were granted to both men and their families. Between the two of them, the sheikhs have five wives and 39 children.

The sheikh’s investment group, Al Mirqab spent over £934 million to acquire 80 percent of Heritage’s holdings. The company produces oil in Nigeria and Russia and has exploration assets in a number of countries, including Tanzania, Libya and Pakistan.

According to Article 42 of the Vienna Convention: “A diplomat shall not in the receiving State practice for personal profit any professional or commercial activity.”

Sheikh Hamad’s lawyers said in a statement that his duties in London “involve developing yet further the very close relationship which exists between the State of Qatar and the United Kingdom, with particular emphasis and responsibility for the promotion and development of economic relations.”

His lawyers said the sheikh is “obviously aware of the obligations placed upon him” by his diplomatic status, adding: “He has always conducted himself in accordance with those obligations.”

His lawyers also argue that the type of “commercial activity” indicated in Article 42 “requires some regularity of action rather than a one-off, or occasional, transaction,” noting that Sheikh Hamad’s purchase of Heritage Oil “was obviously a single transaction rather than a continuous activity.”

The Foreign Office declined to comment on the situation, saying that it does not comment on “individual diplomats.”


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