Qatar, one of the world’s richest nations, stunned international oil companies in 2008 by asking them for more than $1bn to help pay for a new medical centre, according to a leaked US diplomatic cable.
The cash call angered companies involved, including ExxonMobil and Royal Dutch Shell and baffled US officials, who saw it as a bad miscalculation by the energy ministry and H H Sheikha Moza bint Nasser.
The flagship Sidra academic medical centre is the most ambitious component of Qatar’s extensive Education City complex. Sidra is funded by a $7.9bn endowment from the Qatar Foundation, the largest endowment for a medical and research centre anywhere in the world. The hi-tech facility will open its doors to patients with 400 beds at the end of 2012.
The appeal for huge donations to Sidra, the project championed by Sheikha Moza, the cabe said, “indicates that Sheikha Moza is beginning to exert influence outside of her traditional lane of social/educational issues”. In this case, though, the embassy concluded that the government of Qatar had “badly miscalculated”.
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 IMF. “Qatar will soon — literally — have more money than it knows what to do with,” according t o the US cable from September 2008, obtained by WikiLeaks.
Despite this, the country’s energy ministry requested at least $1bn and possibly as much as $1.7bn in donations from companies doing business with Qatar Petroleum to support construction of the new medical centre, the cable said. Letters signed by the Deputy Prime Minister H E Abdullah bin Hamad Al Attiyah gave specific amounts for the size of donation it was requesting, ranging from $280m each for ExxonMobil and A P Moller-Maersk to $80m for smaller players like Total. Other oil companies approached included ConocoPhillips, Occidental and Q-Chem, as well as Microsoft and General Electric.
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 US conglomerate already operated its Qatar Advanced Technology and Research Center near the Sidra facility. ExxonMobil, Shell, Total, Conoco and Microsoft declined to comment, while Q-Chem did not respond to questions about the cable. The US State Department and officials in Qatar also had no comment. Reuters
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