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Gulf royals claimed millions from UK furlough scheme: Report

Companies owned by Qatar and royals from the UAE and Saudi Arabia claimed thousands in funds, Guardian reports
The furlough scheme was introduced to help struggling businesses stay afloat during the coronavirus pandemic (AFP)

Companies owned by some of the world's wealthiest people claimed millions of pounds from a UK government scheme set up to help struggling businesses stay afloat during the coronavirus pandemic, the Guardian reported on Friday.

Cross-referencing furlough data with publicly available information from Companies House, the newspaper reported that members of Qatar, Dubai and Saudi Arabia's royal families benefited from the UK government's furlough scheme.

According to the Guardian, Qatar's sovereign wealth fund - which owns Harrods - claimed £2.5 million ($3,482,000.00) - the highest amount for any company affiliated with a wealthy Gulf state.  

'Businesses bankrolled by royalty or billionaire owners clearly are better able to cope than most'

Sarah Olney, Liberal Democrats

The Ritz Hotel, owned by the Qatari Emir's brother-in-law, Abdulhadi Mana Al Hajri, claimed up to £500,000 ($696,400).

The Ritz told the Guardian that it had topped up salaries given to employees who were on furlough to prevent any salary reductions. State-owned Qatar Airways received £50,000 ($69,000) to pay its staff in the Edinburgh Park hotel.

Qaya LTD, a company controlled by former Prime Minister Sheikh Hamad bin Jassim Al Thani, also received £10,000 ($14,000). 

Luxury clothing companies Pal Zileri and Valentino England, owned by Qatar's former ruler Sheikh Hamad bin Khalifa Al Thani, took up to £35,000 ($48,000) from the scheme.

Glympton Park LTD, which manages a 2,000-hectare estate in rural England, claimed £25,000 ($35,000) in December 2020. Bandar bin Sultan, Saudi Arabia's former ambassador to the US, bought the estate in 1992 and later sold it to the deputy prime minister of Bahrain in March 2021. 

'Wasting public money'

The Dubai government, which owns UK Mission Enterprise via the British Virgin Islands, claimed up to £100,000 ($139,000). The company said it provides "six-star" 24-hour concierge services to VIP clients.  

The office of the ruler of Dubai, Mohammed bin Rashid al-Maktoum, claimed up to £55,000 ($76,000), including £10,000 each for luxury service apartment business Cheval Collection and hotels firm Jumeirah International (UK).

Labour Shadow Chancellor Anneliese Dodds told the Guardian that the Conservative government was "wasting billions of pounds of public money".

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"Labour called from the outset of this crisis for targeted wage support to protect jobs and businesses, but the chancellor refused to listen," she said.

"Now it seems that overseas billionaires have also used the scheme without any such restrictions on its use.

"The mask is slipping with this chancellor. Instead of doing all he can to protect jobs and livelihoods, he's wasting billions of pounds of public money, cutting pay for our NHS heroes and hitting families across the country with tax hikes and pay freezes."

Sarah Olney, an MP with the Liberal Democrats, said: "The furlough scheme has been the vital lifeline that millions of businesses and workers needed to get through multiple lockdowns. But the spirit of furlough is that it offers a blanket to those who would struggle without taxpayers' help.

"Businesses bankrolled by royalty or billionaire owners clearly are better able to cope than most. It seems only fair that they take on their fair share of the emergency costs of this pandemic."