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Sun 16 Feb 2014 07:17 PM

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British banker who helped transform Dubai dies

Scot William Duff became financial advisor to the late Sheikh Rashid bin Saeed al-Maktoum

British banker who helped transform Dubai dies
William Duff was financial advisor to Sheikh Rashid bin Saeed Al Maktoum, pictured here in 1979.

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.

George Lawrence 5 years ago

Poor Guy Mr Duff gave his whole life to the dubai . What did he get ?

UAE should give rights And citizenship to the people who are contributing to the country and the economy

Citizenship should be given to who have lived here since 20 years !

Rashed 5 years ago

Our thoughts and prayers go out to his family and loved ones. Thank you from all of UAE

Ron Bagnulo 5 years ago

A legend has passed. A wonderful man. Heartfelt condolences to all the Duff's.

Emirati 5 years ago

My condolences to his family. May he rest in peace. Thank you for all your contribution in building Dubai from scratch.

Keith Levers 5 years ago

Quite sad, a true gentleman.

Louie Tedesco 5 years ago

A brilliant man, well respected and adored by many. May he rest in peace. He never did reveal his secret of being able to stay in Dubai to the ripe age of 92 without the sponsorship and residence visa headaches other property owners face!

Keerthi Desilva 5 years ago

I legend and a wonderful man for sure. may he rest in peace.

Mick 5 years ago

Condolonsces on the departure of a very influential man in the history of the Emirates.
This man was truly one of the many expats that helped make Dubai the city it is today.

Ken 5 years ago

A sad loss, one of the expats along with Jack Briggs and Eric Tulloch whom help make Dubai what it is today. And nice to see he will be buried here in Dubai his adopted home

Oldtimer 5 years ago

RIP William Duff. Condolences to the bereaved family. His wife Mrs.Duff ran the Dubai Infants school adjacent to the Holy Trinity Church and the English Speaking School. The couple contributed immensely to the development of Dubai during its early days under the late Sh. Rashid Bin Saeed Al Maktoum.