SHARM EL-SHEIK, Egypt - Mideast bankers say sovereign-wealth funds - the vast government-directed pools of investment money that have raised controversy in the West - have helped save the U.S. financial system from collapse.
But World Bank president Robert Zoellick cautioned that the funds will continue to raise international concern as countries question whether their investments are driven by the search for profit or by political interests that could threaten national security.
The United States and the European Union have pushed sovereign funds to provide greater disclosure about their investment strategies, and they are backing an initiative by the International Monetary Fund and the Paris-based Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development to develop a voluntary set of best practices for the investment vehicles.
But many bankers and investment managers say the concerns are overblown and point out that the funds swooped in to provide much-needed capital to the U.S. financial system when it was recently reeling from the mortgage crisis. They maintain the funds are passive investors with no political agenda.
"There is no need to be alarmed," former Pakistani Prime Minister and Citigroup Inc. executive Shaukat Aziz said Monday at the World Economic Forum on the Middle East, an offshoot of the annual gathering of political and business leaders in Davos, Switzerland.
"In fact, I should say we should give a vote of thanks to all the sovereign funds . . . who came in and saved the global financial system," added Aziz on the second day of the three-day summit held in the Egyptian Red Sea resort town of Sharm el-Sheik.
Sovereign funds from China, Singapore and the Middle East have invested more than $40 billion in Citigroup, Merrill Lynch & Co. Inc., and Swiss bank UBS AG since late last year.
Analysts estimate that about 40 sovereign funds worldwide control about $2.5 trillion in assets, a total that could reach $12 trillion by 2015. Sovereign funds in the Mideast and Russia have surged in recent years from soaring oil prices, while China has benefited from a growing trade surplus with the rest of the world.