Qatar shuffles cabinet, names new heads of wealth fund, state gas giant

DOHA (Reuters) - Qatar named new heads to its giant state-run energy firm and deep-pocketed sovereign wealth fund on Sunday while appointing the CEO of its largest bank as its new trade minister.

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It was the first government shuffle in Qatar, the world’s top liquefied natural gas producer, since early 2016, but diplomats and analysts said the changes did not represent a significant shift in power.

The wealthy country has been subject to a diplomatic and economic boycott by Saudi Arabia, the United Arab Emirates, Bahrain and Egypt since June 2017. They accuse Qatar of backing terrorism and cozying up to Iran. Doha denies the charges and says the boycott aims to impinge on its sovereignty.

Qatar’s ruler issued decrees outlining changes to the boards of state gas giant Qatar Petroleum (QP) and Qatar Investment Authority (QIA), the world’s ninth largest sovereign wealth fund with about $300 billion in assets.

Foreign Minister Sheikh Mohammed bin Abdulrahman Al Thani was named chairman of QIA, which injected billions of dollars into Qatari banks last year to offset foreign outflows just after the Arab boycott began.

Sheikh Abdullah bin Hamad al-Thani, the 30-year-old deputy and brother of the emir, was named chairman of Qatar Petroleum, which expects to ramp up gas production by some 43 percent over the next five to six years.

Though limited, the cabinet shuffle pulled in business heavyweights like Qatar National Bank (QNB) CEO Ali Ahmed al-Kuwari, who was appointed to a new portfolio combining commerce and industry under one ministry.

Saad al-Kaabi, the chief executive of QP, was named minister of state for energy affairs. New ministers were appointed to head the departments of justice, of labor and social affairs, and of municipality and environment.

Western diplomats and analysts did not see the shake-up as indicative of a shift in policy nearly 18 months since the start of the regional rift, which Qatar has weathered with new trade routes and higher oil prices that have helped it swing to a budgetary surplus this year.

“The cabinet shuffle was expected to come earlier, but was apparently on hold as the country dealt with the blockade and now as the ramifications have been successfully dealt with, it was time,” said Majed al-Ansari, an analyst and professor of political sociology at Qatar University.

“It does not signal a change in policy or power shift in the government,” he said.

It was not clear whether Kuwari would retain his post at QNB, the Middle East’s largest lender by assets. The bank, which is 50 percent owned by the country’s sovereign wealth fund, did not immediately respond to Reuters’ request for comment.

QP’s Al-Kaabi, a U.S.-educated engineer, rose through the ranks to become chief executive in 2014 and also sits on the board of the Qatar Investment Authority.

He has gained a reputation among executives of the world's energy majors, such as Exxon XOM.N, Shell RDSa.L and Total TOTF.PA, as a reliable counterpart for energy projects that have made the tiny nation of 2.6 million people the world's biggest exporter of liquefied natural gas (LNG).

Abdulla Abdulaziz Al Subaie was appointed minister of municipality and environment, a post seen as key to preparations for the country’s 2022 World Cup. Subaie has served as managing director and CEO of Qatar Rail, which expects to launch Doha’s first metro line this year.

A separate decree on Sunday appointed Mohammed Bin Hamad Al-Thani chairman of the Qatar Financial Markets Authority as part of a shuffle of its board of directors.

Reporting by Eric Knecht in Doha and Rania El Gamal, Asma Alsharif, and Tom Arnold in Dubai; Writing by Ghaida Ghantous; Editing by Raissa Kasolowsky and Adrian Croft