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Prince Charles, the sheikh and a suitcase of cash

Heir to throne facing questions over personal judgement after revelations of unusual donations to his charities

Prince Charles is facing an investigation into payments to his charities after reports claimed he had accepted a suitcase containing a million euros in cash from a billionaire Qatari sheikh.

The Prince of Wales is reported to have received multiple cash payments over several years, which are now to be investigated by the charity watchdog.

While there is no suggestion the payments were illegal, “the new revelations will raise serious questions about the personal judgment of the heir to the throne”, said The Sunday Times.

Who is behind the donations?

In what Politico described as a “sensational exclusive”, The Sunday Times revealed that Prince Charles had personally received three lots of cash totalling €3m (roughly £2.5m) in a series of private meetings between 2011 and 2015 with Sheikh Hamad bin Jassim bin Jaber Al Thani, the prime minister of Qatar from 2007 to 2013.

One donation was reportedly handed over in a small suitcase and another was stuffed in a carrier bag from upmarket department store Fortnum & Mason.

Known as “HBJ” in London’s financial circles, the 62-year-old sheikh has an estimated personal net worth of $1.1bn (£900m), according to Forbes.

He has been nicknamed the “man who bought London” after he used his wealth, as well as his influence as the head of Qatar’s sovereign wealth fund, the Qatari Investment Authority, to buy Harrods, the Shard, London’s Olympic Village and Park Lane’s InterContinental hotel, reported The Guardian.

In 2012, Al-Thani was named among the world’s 100 most influential figures by Time magazine, yet in recent years, “scrutiny has swung back to al-Thani’s finances”, said the paper. In 2016, he was named by the Panama Papers, one of the biggest ever data leaks that revealed how the rich and powerful exploit offshore tax regimes.

Are cash payments illegal?

Clarence House, the prince’s official residence, has said donations from the sheikh to Prince Charles were passed immediately to one of his charities and all the correct processes were followed.

“There is no suggestion of any wrongdoing by either party,” said The Telegraph, “but the details have raised further questions about the judgment of the future king.”

Donations to Prince Charles’s charities have come “under scrutiny” in recent months, said the BBC, “following allegations that one of them offered a Saudi donor help to secure a UK honour and citizenship”.

The broadcaster added that the Metropolitan Police said earlier this year that it is investigating the claims about the Prince’s Foundation under the Honours (Prevention of Abuses) Act 1925.

What happens next?

The Sun reported that the payments are to be investigated by the charity watchdog. The Charity Commission may choose to interview fund trustees, the paper said. “It can also freeze accounts if it discovers serious wrongdoing, suspend or remove trustees or make referrals to the police.” 

In a leading article today, The Times said the Prince’s Trust and Charles’s other charitable causes “have a fine record of helping many thousands of underprivileged young people, including former prisoners, to rebuild their lives” and there should be “no shame” in him urging billionaires to donate. 

However, “his increasingly outspoken style and his lobbying for causes he supports come dangerously close to taking political positions”, said the paper. The prince has shown a “sensitive approach to the Commonwealth and to social issues in Britain”, but “what is disturbing and must change is his cavalier approach to fund-raising and fiscal propriety”, it concluded.

Norman Baker, a former Lib Dem MP and government minister, said in The Guardian that the revelations are “what one might expect from a South American drug baron”, while royal author Tom Bower said the image of Charles’s aides counting out cash was like a scene from TV sitcom Only Fools and Horses.

“No one is suggesting that the prince behaved in a venal fashion in the tiniest degree, or indeed that he or the munificent Sheikh Hamad acted in any way illegally,” said Stephen Glover in the Daily Mail. “But my goodness, what appalling judgment Charles showed. He either demonstrated astonishing naivety or the arrogance of someone who doesn't believe he is constrained by the conventions observed by the rest of us. Very possibly he is guilty on both counts.”

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