Reading council has been heavily criticised for investing £15 million in Qatar, despite it being one of the least free countries in the world.

Qatar is a country where women, LGBT people, ethnic and religious minorities face discrimination.

But that did not stop Reading Borough Council financial officers investing £15 million into the Qatar National Bank earlier this year.

The money was invested for interest purposes, with the Qatar National Bank providing a 0.94 per cent interest rate.

The council gained £23,564.38 in interest from the investment.

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The council’s administration has been called out for the investment by councillor Josh Williams, who questioned how the investment correlates with the council’s ethical investment policy.

Cllr Williams (Green, Park) said: “Qatar has a lamentable human rights record.

“It has a legal system that discriminates against women, LGBT people face discrimination and even jail, so it’s troubling that we might send a message to the people of Reading that the council is happy to invest millions of pounds in a country that would imprison homosexual men.

“This is not a slight on what officers have done, they’re using every means at their disposal to save us, or even make us money and Qatar is on the list of approved countries to invest in.

“And this is not really a slight on the Qatar National Bank, I don’t know what kind of an organisation they are, it is a question over whether the ethical investment policy is working as I think we all want it to work.”

The ethical investment policy states that the council should not not knowingly invest directly in businesses whose activities and practices pose a risk of serious harm to individuals or groups, which includes those with links to human rights abuses, environmentally harmful activities and socially harmful activities such as smoking and gambling.

Qatar is judged as ‘Not Free’ by human rights watchdog Freedom House, which gave it a freedom score of 25/100.

Freedom House states that LGBT+ people are subject to legal and societal discrimination, with vague legal wording that can be interpreted to criminalize same-sex sexual activity.

Qatar will be hosting the FIFA World Cup in November and December this year.

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Although most places on the list of approved countries for the council to invest in are western, it includes Hong Kong and Abu Dhabi.

The period the £15 million was held in the Qatar National Bank was brief, lasting from March to May this year.

A spokesperson for the council said: “Most, if not all local authorities, will look to maximise returns on temporary cash surplus’ which ultimately contribute towards the funding of council services.

“Investments will only be placed with banks in countries on the approved list, which is part of the Council’s Treasury Management Strategy Statement.

“In this case funding was placed in Qatar National Bank (QNB) for a short period (March, 16 2022 to May 16, 2022). The approved list is reviewed on an annual basis.”

Cllr Williams made his statement at an Audit and Governance Committee meeting on Tuesday, July 19.

He is the new chair of the committee after former chair David Stevens failed in his bid to get re-elected.