British banker William Duff who helped transform Dubai into financial powerhouse dies

DUBAI (REUTERS) - The British banker who helped transform Dubai into a financial powerhouse, serving as an advisor to its ruling sheikh, has died at the age of 92.

William Duff, a Scot, came to Dubai after a stint as a banker in Kuwait and became financial advisor to the late Sheikh Rashid bin Saeed al-Maktoum in 1960. At the time, the emirate's population was about 50,000; it survived largely on fishing, herding and small-scale trade across the Gulf in wooden dhows.

Duff set up the Dubai Customs Department and Department of Finance, helped to establish the emirate's electric utility, and was later instrumental in creating the Jebel Ali Free Zone, which includes the biggest port in the Middle East. The emirate is now the region's top financial centre, with a population above 2 million.

An Oxford-educated Arabist and classical Arabic speaker, Duff navigated the inner circle of the ruling family in the days when his employer and other senior royals spoke little English.

"He went to meet Shekih Rashid, and they got on straight away. They used to enjoy going on trips to Scotland together. It was more than a business relationship - it was a friendship as well," said Duff's daughter, Sheila Duff-Earles.

Anthony Harris, a former British ambassador to the United Arab Emirates, said: "He really played a key role in the growth of the UAE. The drive was all Sheikh Rashid. But around Sheikh Rashid were these loyal servants, loyal in the sense that whatever ideas were outlined, they made it happen."

Duff retired in Dubai and will be buried there this week.

Join ST's Telegram channel and get the latest breaking news delivered to you.