FBI seizes retired US general’s electronic data over alleged illegal Qatar lobbying | US news

The FBI has seized the electronic data of a retired four-star general who authorities say made false statements and withheld “incriminating” documents regarding his role in an illegal foreign lobbying campaign on behalf of Qatar.

New documents filed with Federal Court obtained on Tuesday outlined a potential criminal case against former Marine General John R Allen, who led US and NATO forces in Afghanistan before heading the Brookings think tank Institution.

An expanding investigation has ensnared Richard G Olson, a former ambassador to the United Arab Emirates and Pakistan who pleaded guilty to federal charges last week, and Imaad Zuberi, a prolific political donor serving a 12-year prison sentence for corruption. Several members of Congress were questioned.

Court documents detail Allen’s behind-the-scenes efforts to help Qatar influence US policy in 2017 when a diplomatic crisis erupted between the gas-rich Persian Gulf monarchy and its neighbors.

“There is substantial evidence that these Fara violations were deliberate,” FBI agent Babak Adib wrote in a search warrant request, referring to the Foreign Agents Registration Act.

Allen also misrepresented his role in lobbying U.S. officials, Adib wrote, and did not reveal “that he was simultaneously pursuing multimillion-dollar business deals with the Qatari government.”

The FBI says Allen gave a ‘false version of events’ about his work for Qatar during a 2020 interview with law enforcement officials and failed to produce relevant emails in response to an earlier grand jury subpoena.

The 77-page search warrant request appears to have been filed in error and was removed from the docket on Tuesday after The Associated Press contacted federal authorities about its contents.

Allen declined to comment. He denied ever working as a Qatari agent and said his efforts in 2017 were motivated to prevent a war in the Gulf that would put US troops at risk.

A spokesperson, Beau Phillips, told AP last week that Allen “voluntarily cooperated with the government’s investigation into this matter.”

Allen, a senior fellow at Brookings before becoming chairman, used his official email account at the think tank for certain Qatar-related communications, the affidavit says.

Brookings did not respond to a request for comment. Qatar has long been a major backer of Brookings, although the institution says it recently stopped receiving Qatari funding.

Olson was working with Zuberi on another case involving Qatar in mid-2017 when Saudi Arabia, the United Arab Emirates and other countries announced a blockade of Qatar due to its alleged links to terrorist groups and other problems.

Then-President Donald Trump appeared to side with Qatar.

Court documents indicate that Allen played a significant role in changing the American response. Specifically, authorities say Allen pressured then-national security adviser HR McMaster to get the Trump administration to adopt a more pro-Qatar tone.

In an email to McMaster, Allen said the Qataris wanted the White House or State Department to issue a statement calling on all parties to the Gulf diplomatic crisis to “act with restraint.”

Federal law enforcement officials say then-Secretary of State Rex Tillerson did just that two days later, issuing a statement calling on other Gulf countries to “easing the blockade against Qatar. and asking “that there be no more escalation by the parties”. In the region”.

The Qatari embassy did not immediately respond to a request for comment.

As part of the lobbying campaign, according to federal law enforcement authorities, Olson and Allen traveled to Qatar to meet with the Emir and other senior officials.

At the meeting, Allen provided advice on how to influence US policy and said the Qataris should “use the full spectrum” of info ops, including “black and white” ops, says the affidavit.

Black ops are usually covert and sometimes illegal. Qatar has been accused of orchestrating hacking and leaking operations from critics and rivals during the diplomatic crisis, including one targeting a UAE ambassador. Qatar has denied any wrongdoing.

Before heading to Doha, Allen wanted to “discuss” with Olson and Zuberi his compensation, according to the affidavit. Allen suggested in an email that he receive a $20,000 “speaker’s fee” for the weekend trip — even if he was not giving a speech — and then later “work out a more comprehensive arrangement for ‘a longer-term relationship,’ the affidavit says.

Zuberi paid for Allen’s first-class airfare to Qatar, according to the affidavit, but there is no indication that the speaker’s fee was paid. Allen’s spokesperson previously said the general was never paid. We do not know why. Some of Zuberi’s former associates accused him of not honoring his financial commitments.

Allen also had other financial incentives to help the Qataris and maintain strong ties with its top leaders, the FBI said.

“At the same time as he lobbied U.S. government officials on behalf of Qatar, Allen pursued at least one multimillion-dollar business deal with the Qatari government on behalf of a company of which he was a board member. of directors,” the affidavit reads.

After their trip to Qatar, Allen and Olson lobbied members of Congress, particularly those who supported a House resolution linking Qatar to terrorist financing, the FBI said.

Among them was Ted Lieu, a California Democrat who told law enforcement officials he didn’t remember exactly what Allen said but felt like he was there.” to support Qatari officials and their position”.

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