By Rania Abouzeid

The body of Sheik Ahmed bin Zayed al-Nahayan, managing director of one of the world’s largest sovereign wealth funds, was retrieved on Tuesday, fished out from a picturesque lake some 20 miles southeast of the Moroccan capital, Rabat, that his glider had crashed into five days before.

Sheik Ahmed bin Zayed al-Nahayan
Sheik Ahmed bin Zayed al-Nahayan

The 41-year-old was the half-brother of Sheik Khalifa bin Zayed al-Nahayan, President of the United Arab Emirates and ruler of Abu Dhabi, the most influential — and with some 8% of the world’s proven oil reserves — the wealthiest of the seven states that comprise the U.A.E.

The sudden passing of Sheik Ahmed, who was ranked No. 27 on Forbes‘ list of Most Powerful People last year, is likely to precipitate a power struggle among several of his 17 surviving brothers as they maneuver to replace him. (The late Sheik Zayed bin Sultan al-Nahayan, former U.A.E. president and the country’s founding father, had 19 sons from several different wives. Another of his sons, Sheik Nasser, was killed in a helicopter crash in June 2008.)

Sheik Ahmed was a senior member of the ruling al-Nahayan clan, and since 1997 was charged with overseeing the day-to-day runnings of the Abu Dhabi Investment Authority (ADIA). The fund has stakes in companies including Citigroup, the Hyatt Hotels and Britain’s Gatwick airport. Engorged with Abu Dhabi’s substantial oil surpluses, ADIA’s assets are estimated at between $300 billion and $800 billion. It was Abu Dhabi’s wealth that helped bail out sister city-state Dubai when it ran short of funds to complete the world’s tallest building — which was then renamed the Burj Khalifa after the President of the U.A.E.

Power and influence among the male heirs of the al-Nahayan clan is divided among several groups within the family; the President, Sheik Khalifa, who does not have any full brothers, and Crown Prince Sheik Mohammed, who along with his five full brothers from a common mother, Sheika Fatima bint Mubarak, form the most powerful bloc within the clan. The sons of Sheika Fatima (the late Sheik Zayed’s third wife) control the defense, intelligence, national security and foreign affairs portfolios, as well as the chairmanship of Abu Dhabi’s second largest sovereign wealth fund (the International Petroleum Investments Co., or IPIC) and Mubadala, the state investment company, among other things.