March 30, 2010 / 6:08 PM / in 10 years

Abu Dhabi sheikh, sovereign fund head, found dead

RABAT/ABU DHABI (Reuters) - An Emirati sheikh who headed one of the world’s biggest sovereign wealth funds has been found dead four days after a glider crash in Morocco, state media said on Tuesday.

Sheikh Ahmed bin Zayed al-Nahayan, 41, was a younger brother of the ruler of Abu Dhabi, who is also president of the United Arab Emirates. He was ranked No. 27 on Forbes list of the world’s most powerful people last year.

State television in the United Arab Emirates interrupted its broadcasts to air readings from the Koran. “Sheikh Ahmed ... is in the care of God,” read a banner on Abu Dhabi Television.

His fund, the Abu Dhabi Investment Authority (ADIA), is believed to have assets of between $500 billion and $700 billion, ranging from Citigroup bonds to a stake in Britain’s Gatwick Airport.

“He is important but his death will not have a huge impact on the power structure within the family,” said Mustafa Alani, Dubai-based analyst at the Gulf Research Center.

“Certainly on the question of financial and economic issues, I think he will be missed. Definitely.”

Experts expect the leadership role at ADIA to remain within the ruling family. “ADIA is essentially a custodian of Abu Dhabi’s wealth, which belongs to the ruling family,” said Khuram Maqsood, managing director at Emirates Capital.

“ADIA is an extremely well institutionalised and professional organisation. It’s the largest sovereign fund, or certainly among the top three globally. It is unlikely that there will be any change out of the ordinary as a result.”

The sheikh’s glider crashed into a reservoir near the Sidi Mohamed Ben Abdallah Dam, south of the Moroccan capital, Rabat.

Residents of the area said the sheikh was a regular visitor and the Abu Dhabi ruling family had a palace overlooking the reservoir, which was swollen after heavy rain and estimated to be about 60 metres (190 feet) deep.

The sheikh’s body was pulled from the water on Tuesday morning after a search involving some 225 people including 100 divers, Moroccan state media said.

INVESTMENTS

ADIA funnels funds from the emirate’s oil exports into overseas stocks and bonds.

Sheikh Ahmed shunned the media spotlight and was said to dislike being referred to as “Your Highness”.

“He was extremely well respected as part of the work he did for ADIA and it was expected that he would play a vital role in the future development of the emirate as a leading member of the ruling family,” a source familiar with the matter said.

A source close to the government said a succession plan had been formulated for ADIA and would be announced within days.

The state news agency WAM announced three days of mourning starting on Wednesday, but bourses in Abu Dhabi and Dubai will remain open, officials said.

Sheikh Ahmed led a shift within ADIA from active to passive fund management after discovering that index-tracking funds, which seek to mimic ups and downs of regular stocks indices, often outperformed those run by expensive money managers.

He was the son of the founder of the seven member UAE federation, Sheikh Zayed bin Sultan al-Nahayan, and worked as an equities analyst at ADIA for six years before becoming its boss.

The fund has rarely given details of its strategy or investments. In its first detailed report in March, ADIA said it returned 6.5 percent on an annualised basis over a 20-year period as of Dec. 31, 2009 and 8 percent over a 30-year period.

The chairman of ADIA is Sheikh Khalifa bin Zayed al-Nahayan, ruler of Abu Dhabi and president of the UAE. In June 2008, a brother of Sheikh Ahmed was killed when the helicopter carrying him and his colleagues crashed into the Gulf.

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