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Emirate open to investing in Lloyds and RBS in UK

Qatar, the natural gas-rich Middle Eastern state which owns stakes in Barclays and Sainsbury's, could invest in Lloyds and Royal Bank of Scotland, the banking groups part-nationalised at the height of the financial crisis.

The Treasury owns about 83 per cent of RBS and about 40 per cent of Lloyds, with the stakes managed by UK Financial Investments (UKFI), the body set up after the two were rescued by the taxpayer.

Speaking at a press conference to mark a trade visit by the British Prime Minister, David Cameron, the Qatari prime minister and head of the country's Qatar Investment Authority sovereign wealth fund, Sheikh Hamad bin Jassim bin Jabr al-Thani, said he had discussed investment ideas with his British counterpart.

When asked about RBS and Lloyds, he said: "We are very open to any investment in the UK and we have discussed some. We are capable of being engaged and will continue to be engaged in discussions."

Sheikh Hamad added that Qatar was interested in "any investment in the state- or partially state-owned banks".

Stephen Green, the former chairman of HSBC who is currently serving as the Coalition's Trade Minister, said Qatar had expressed an interest in British financial services companies. "They like and respect what Britain has to offer," he said.

Qatar helped Barclays bolster its balance sheet by taking part in a capital raising in 2008, ending up as the bank's biggest shareholder. It sold part of its interest in 2009, but is still the biggest investor in the bank with nearly 7 per cent of Barclays shares.

News of Qatar's interest comes as the market awaits news on UKFI's plans to dispose of its holdings. "There has been considerable pressure and strong logic for US and European governments to exit their commitments to financial firms made during the crisis," Deutsche Bank's economist Steffen Kern said, adding that soverign wealth funds were important players in that "they have very long-term objectives with their investments".