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David Proctor: The banker who can’t get out of Qatar

Eric Ellis
Published on:

David Proctor thought he had found a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity to build a Gulf financial powerhouse at Al-Khaliji Bank. It didn’t work out. But almost a year after he was removed as chief executive Proctor’s life is in limbo, as Qatar’s authorities decline to grant him an exit visa that would reunite him with his family. Eric Ellis investigates.

Further reading

When bankers get trapped in the Gulf
eFinancial Careers, May 7 2010

Western bankers - beware 'powerful' Qatari cats
eFinancial News, May 4 2010

British banker finally gets permission to leave Qatar
The Independent, May 4 2010

"Nightmare over” for UK banker held in Qatar 
Euromoney, April 30 2010 

Qatar? Be warned
Sydney Morning Herald, February 10 2010

Qatar overhauls financial centre’s strategy 
Euromoney, February 1 2010

Qatar changes tack to boost financial centre
Financial Times, February 1 2010

The dangers of working in Qatar
The Independent, January 27 2010

Banker's 12-month ordeal as 'hostage' of Qatari sheikh
Daily Mail, ‎January 19 2010‎

UPDATE: Nightmare over” for UK banker held in Qatar 
April 30, 2010

DAVID PROCTOR’S biography as a career banker remains proudly displayed on the website of Al-Khaliji Bank, the three-year-old Qatari bank where "we pride ourselves in finding ways to do things differently".

Outwardly, there’s nothing particularly unusual about that. Bank executives often have their CVs puffed on the ‘About us’ tab of their banks’ websites. And Gulf banks do it often, both projecting a progressive image and boasting about the foreign talent they’ve lured to modernize their oil and gas-drenched emirates as emergent financial centres.

And what bank, particularly an ambitious start-up like Al-Khaliji with regional ambitions, wouldn’t puff a CV like Proctor’s? He’s Cambridge-educated, 25 years a banker, solidly trained at Midland and then with a long stint at Bank of America, rising to be its boss in Bangkok, where he chaired the foreign bankers’ lobby during the 1990s Thai financial crisis. In 1999, he made a move to what would seem the natural habitat of this Peterhouse alumnus, Standard Chartered, as its global head of client relationships. He was made CEO of StanChart’s European group, then its boss in the Gulf until 2006, and was a favourite of its former executive chairman Mervyn Davies – now Baron Davies of Abersoch, Britain’s minister for trade and investment.

Indeed, as Al-Khaliji gushes of its "special adviser to the chairman and managing director", Proctor’s "breadth of understanding of the banking market – honed in the course of his 25 years in the industry – has equipped him as a natural leader with a proven track record of success at all points in the economic cycle". Proctor reads as a combination of process man and safe hand, combining emerging market exotica with the ambassadorial polish of an international banker. His experience leasing planes, ships and oil refineries would also seem perfect for the resource-rich Qatari story.

So, what’s wrong with this picture? And why should anyone care?

Because as with much in this reclusive, gas-rich Gulf monarchy, one of the world’s richest yet least transparent countries, not everything is as it appears. Proctor’s "special adviser" designation on the Al-Khaliji website seems as phony as what many anxious foreign bankers and businessmen in Doha posit is Qatar’s genuine commitment to due legal process. Qatar widely advertises a "world’s best practices" mantra but that is increasingly questioned internationally of financial centres across the Gulf as once-soaring Arab ambitions dissolve in a desert storm of bad debt and finger-pointing.

But Qatar’s claims to openness and transparency are questionable in Proctor’s case. Search the Al-Khaliji website and there is no official announcement that David Proctor is no longer the bank’s CEO. The only public pronouncement on the matter was a statement posted on the Doha Securities Market’s website in March last year announcing his new position as special adviser. No reasons were given for the sudden change.

David Proctor's biography as a career banker remains proudly displayed on the website of Al-Khaliji Bank, the three-year-old Qatari bank where "we pride ourselves in finding ways to do things differently"
Moreover, Proctor – hired in February 2007 to create and build government-controlled Al-Khaliji into Qatar’s first regional bank – hasn’t actually provided any advice or management for almost a year, not since Sheikh Hamad Bin Faisal Bin Thani Al-Thani was installed as the bank’s new chairman in February last year. Proctor appears to be caught in a power struggle within Qatar’s ruling elite over control of the emirate’s emerging financial sector.

A senior member of Qatar’s remote ruling Al-Thani family, Sheikh Hamad is a former colleague of Qatar’s powerful finance minister Yousef Hussain Kamal. The sheikh was Kamal’s recent deputy at the finance ministry and is himself a former commerce minister. The wealthy Kamal is a prominent businessman in the emirate. He’s best-known for his long-time chairmanship of the country’s biggest bank, Qatar National Bank, an Al-Khaliji competitor. His former vice-chairman at QNB? None other than Sheikh Hamad.