On a calm and clear night last March, Gabriel Makhlouf looked out over New Zealand's Wellington Harbour, declaring to his modest 300-strong Twitter following that there was no better view.

But the serene scene wouldn't last.

In May, Makhlouf, who holds a British passport, was unveiled as the next governor of the Central Bank of Ireland, making him the first foreigner to fill the post in 76 years.

His nearly decade-long tenure as chief executive and secretary of the New Zealand Treasury had established him as the government's chief economic and financial adviser.

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Known to his inner circle as "Gabs", Makhlouf tried to leave the institution unmarred. But before the end of the month a scandal threatened to scupper his Irish appointment altogether.

When sensitive budget information was leaked in New Zealand, Makhlouf came under fire for failing to take responsibility. His officials claimed the leak was the result of a deliberate hack of the treasury department's website but it later came to light that the data release was accidental.

A subsequent investigation eventually rubbished claims that Makhlouf's actions in the wake of the leak were politically biased, but he was criticised for his "clumsy" handling of that matter, with authorities later concluding that his behaviour was not befitting of an experienced chief executive.

The scandal prompted Irish prime minister Leo Varadkar to recommended Makhlouf make a statement to clear up the controversy.

But the Taoiseach also told attendees of the British-Irish Council that, despite the crisis and Makhlouf's supposed lack of economic credentials, his Central Bank appointment would stand.

"There was an international competition, there was a set of interviews and he was the sole candidate put forward to cabinet and at that point we made his appointment and we've no plans to revoke [it]," he said.

While Irish government officials were rumoured to be seriously angry, Makhlouf had already been put in the post by the President. He could only be removed if found guilty of a grievous error, making it highly unlikely the appointment would be revoked.

Born in Egypt in 1960 to a Cypriot-British father and Greek-Armenian mother, Makhlouf spent his formative years following his United Nations official father around the world.

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He later went on to earn a degree in economics from the University of Exeter and a master's from the University of Bath before starting professional life as a tax inspector. He then went on to forge a successful career in the UK civil service, acting as a key aide to former prime minister Gordon Brown.

Makhlouf often cites his travels as a youngster for the international turn his career has taken.

In 2015 he said living in countries such as the Congo, Bangladesh, Samoa, Fiji and Ethiopia "made it easier for me to do a number of jobs that involve an understanding of international contexts".

Elements of the wellbeing budget became public before the release date under the watch of Gabriel Makhlouf. Photo / File.
Elements of the wellbeing budget became public before the release date under the watch of Gabriel Makhlouf. Photo / File.

It might also help explain his keen Twitter-based commentary of different countries' progress in last year's football world cup.

Makhlouf has taken up his Central Bank role on an annual salary of roughly £230,000, a job that automatically makes him a member of the European Central Bank's (ECB) governing council.

It was reported in July that the ECB had concerns about the Irish government's choice of governor, although both sides deny any tension.

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But Makhlouf is the European council's first member who is not a citizen of the country appointing him, while the council suddenly finds itself with an unexpected Briton at the table just two months before the UK attempts to leave the European Union (EU).

Makhlouf has just 10 days to prepare for a meeting to deliberate a potential interest rate cut with European officials while, back in Ireland, the agenda is likely to include a debate on relaxing mortgage lending rules to make it easier for cash-strapped renters to get on the property ladder.

Former colleagues and other economists say Makhlouf is "not a rate-setter", though many commend him for playing a crucial role in the New Zealand government's public and private sector diversity and inclusion drive, even if Makhlouf's appointment meant that acting governor and frontrunner, Sharon Donnery, missed out on becoming the first woman to officially lead the bank.

Some believe Makhlouf's outsider status will be a force for good. Others think it represents a last-ditch way for Britain to maintain its influence in Europe after October 31.

His supporters compare Makhlouf's position to Canadian Mark Carney at the Bank of England or Stanley Fischer, a dual US-Israeli citizen who previously served as the chief of the Bank of Israel. Being an outsider should bring with it a healthy dose of independence they say, but there are potential pitfalls.

Panicos Demetriades, a UK-based economist turned Cyprus governor, is often cited as a cautionary tale after he quit his job as an ECB policy maker in 2014, blaming political pressure and "difficulties" working with the central bank's board.

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Carney too has faced serious backlash for his strong opinions and regular clashes with former British prime minister Theresa May. A blunt analysis of the effect Brexit could have on the economy prompted accusations of hysteria, incompetence and the conclusion that Carney was nothing more than a "failed, second-tier Canadian politician".

The problem, according to former governor of the Reserve Bank of India Raghuram Rajan, is that central banks and their governors make perfect fall guys for politicians who suddenly find their populist agendas derailed by economic policy.

Carney will leave his post in January to make way for as-yet-unnamed successor.

Rajan has found himself in the frame, although he denies applying for the top job. Current Financial Conduct Authority (FCA) chief Andrew Bailey and the Bank of England's deputy governor Ben Broadbent are also frontrunners.

It remains to be seen who will get the nod, but whoever it is will likely watch the first few months of Makhlouf's Irish reign with interest.

- Telegraph Media Group

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