Damascus: On paper, Shaikh Hamad Bin Jasem Al Thani is officially retired, free to manage, spend, or count his wealth, estimated at $7.8 billion.
Instagram photos of the 58-year old former foreign minister and prime minister of Qatar show him in slacks, enjoying lavish summers in the Maldives and Mumbai.
A closer look, however, shows that Shaikh Hamad, better known as HBJ, is not as retired as he seems to be.
He still serves on the board of large corporations, like the Diar Real Estate Company, and is a member of the Supreme Defence Council.
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After resigning from his double minister stint back in 2013, HBJ disappeared into the shadows during the ascent of the present emir, Shaikh Tamim Bin Hamad Al Thani — a man who HBJ reportedly never really liked or respected — seeing him as young, inexperienced, and intellectually limited.
To avoid arousing the young emir’s ire he settled quietly in London and distanced himself from Qatari domestics — although he still served on the country’s ruling Family Council.
Shaikh Hamad Bin Jasem’s career has been often gripped in controversy.
According to recent leaks by the Saudi-owned Al Arabiya TV, he spoke with Libyan leader Muammar Gaddafi back in 2003 in a telephone call, expressing his desire to “carve up” Saudi Arabia.
“The region will be facing a volcano, Saudi Arabia will be facing a revolution,” he said, adding that the kingdom will be divided into “small states” within the “next 12 years”.
In April 2016, he gave an interview to The Financial Times, infuriating Gulf states by showering Iran with praise, saying: “I have to admit one thing: They [the Iranians] are more clever than us and more patient than us and the best negotiators.”
Speaking on the Charlie Rose Show on PBS earlier this summer, he admitted sending foreign fighters into Syria, adding: “As time passed we discovered that some groups have other agendas” in reference, of course, to Al Qaida, Jabhat Al Nusra, and Daesh. He reportedly protected a senior Qatari bank official named Khalifa Turki Al Subai, accused of bankrolling Khalid Shaikh Mohammad, a member of Al Qaida accused of masterminding the 9/11 attacks, the Daily Telegraph reported.
According to a December 2010 WikiLeaks cable, HBJ made a proposal to Egyptian President Hosni Mubarak, offering to stop Al Jazeera’s negative coverage of Egypt for an entire year, if Mubarak agreed to change his position on Palestinian-Israeli negotiations.
But, by far, the biggest controversy, is that of Fawaz Attiya, a former spokesman for the Qatari government.
Attiya and HBJ worked closely together in the 1990s and they were related; the former being grandson of the founding emir of Qatar Shaikh Jasem Bin Mohammad Al Thani, the brother of HBJ’s grandfather.
Attiya claims that Shaikh Hamad Bin Jasem tried forcing him to sell 20,000 square metres of private land in west Doha, for a measly amount of money, which Attiya refused.
He was subjected to “harassment, threats, and surveillance” and then put in jail, where he was tortured for 15 months, at the orders of Shaikh Hamad Bin Jasem, according to a report in the Guardian.
Lawsuits are being hurled against him in London, because Attiya is a British citizen, but they are being automatically drowned by a diplomatic post that Shaikh Hamad recently founded for himself, registering with the Foreign Office as a minister-councillor. Attiya claims that this post is fake; asking how a former premier can settle for such a junior diplomatic post.
Because of it, however, Shaikh Hamad is now immune from persecution under the Vienna Convention of 1961, although by law, as a diplomat, he is prohibited from cutting business deals and making profit while in office — something that he has done daily while in London since 2013.
Celebrated Kuwaiti writer Fouad Hashem spoke to Gulf News describing HBJ as: “He is psychopathic and aggressive, and he worships money.”
Despite his political dealings, he rarely talked politics, preferring instead to focus on his vast business empire which includes a string of hotels in London and 3 per cent stake in Deutsche Bank, in addition to El Corte Ingles in Spain, and 80 per cent of the Heritage oil company in London which he bought back in 2014 for £924 million, as reported by Forbes.
HBJ also owns a 133-metre super yacht called Al Mirqab, worth an estimated $300 million and a stake in One Hyde Part, a major residential complex in Knightsbridge, London.
He is also a secret partner in One Wall Street, an art-deco style skyscraper in Lower Manhattan.
One of his 15 children Jasem, is CEO of QInvest, Qatar’s leading investment bank.
Asked about the negative role HBJ played in the current Gulf crisis, Hashem replied: “Negative? He is negativity itself — he is the biggest conspirator. If there is one definition of conspiracy and intrigue, then it is Hamad Bin Jasem. He presently controls a quarter of the Qatari government, including sovereignty posts like Defence and Foreign Affairs,” he said.
“I expect the regime in Qatar to fall within the next four months and the only place for Hamad Bin Jasem is in court, facing trial as a war criminal, just like Saddam Hussain!”