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Retired general investigated over undisclosed lobbying for Qatar

WASHINGTON — Federal prosecutors have obtained documents indicating that John R. Allen, the retired four-star Marine general who commanded all US troops in Afghanistan and now heads a venerable think tank in Washington, secretly lobbied for the government of Qatar, lied to investigators about his role and attempted to withhold evidence sought by a federal subpoena, according to court documents.

The court records are the latest evidence of an extensive investigation by the Justice Department and the FBI into the influence that wealthy Arab countries like Qatar, the United Arab Emirates and Saudi Arabia wield in Washington.

The records relating to General Allen were filed in April in the federal district court in central California as part of a request for a warrant to search General Allen’s electronic communications.

Other documents filed in the case appear to remain sealed, and the public release of the warrant request may have been accidental. The dossier proves that General Allen joined the secret lobbying scheme with Richard G. Olson, former US ambassador to the United Arab Emirates and Pakistan, and Imaad Zuberi, a business executive with ties to the Middle -East.

Mr. Zuberi is serving a prison sentence for violating foreign laws on lobbying, campaign finance and taxation, as well as obstruction of justice. Mr. Olson has agreed to plead guilty to participating in the Qatari lobbying effort in violation of a ban on such activity in the first year after leaving the diplomatic service.

A spokesman for General Allen, Beau Phillips, said in a statement, “John Allen has voluntarily cooperated with the government’s investigation into this matter. John Allen’s efforts with regard to Qatar in 2017 were aimed at protecting the interests of the United States and military personnel stationed in Qatar. John Allen received no compensation for his efforts.

The court documents were reported earlier Tuesday by The Associated Press.

Federal law requires anyone lobbying for a foreign government to register with the Department of Justice. The department has cracked down on violations of the Foreign Agents Registration Act, or FARA, in recent years. There is no record of General Allen signing up to lobby for Qatar.

Federal prosecutors have shown particular interest in potential violations involving Persian Gulf countries, which have developed close ties to business and political figures in the United States. Last month, the Justice Department filed a new indictment in an ongoing case against Thomas J. Barrack Jr., a friend and informal adviser to President Donald J. Trump, for working on behalf of the United Arab Emirates. united to guide American foreign policy during the Trump administration.

The plan described in the documents implicating General Allen took place at the start of the Trump administration five years ago, after he left the military and before he became chairman of the think tank of the Brookings Institution. Qatar was frantically trying to fend off a pressure campaign and economic embargo imposed by its Persian Gulf rivals Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates. Rumors swirled about a possible Saudi ground invasion, Mr. Trump appeared to back the Saudis and the Emiratis, and both sides in the conflict were spending heavily to curry favor with Washington.

Mr. Zuberi, according to the filing, “viewed the diplomatic crisis as a business opportunity” and began conspiring to sell lobbying services to Qatar. He contacted Mr. Olson, who had recently left the government. Mr. Olson in turn brought in General Allen, according to the record.

“If we can do this, we will own half of Qatar,” Mr. Zuberi wrote to Mr. Olson in a WhatsApp message cited in the filing regarding their proposed plan with Gen. Allen.

The court document gives a detailed account of several weeks in June 2017 when General Allen was recruited by Mr. Olson and Mr. Zuberi to meet with senior Qatari and American officials to diffuse the Gulf crisis – and how General Allen saw money earning potential for his involvement.

The document says he agreed to travel to Doha, the Qatari capital, at Mr Zuberi’s expense and negotiated a payment of $20,000, which he described as a “lecturer’s fee”. The document cites a message from General Allen showing his goal of earning more money in the future – to “work out a more comprehensive arrangement of a longer-term relationship”.

Other messages cited in the document show that General Allen was pursuing other business with Qatar-affiliated companies, one of which allegedly earned him a commission of more than $1 million. The document says the FBI has not determined whether it received this money.

During this period, General Allen met several times with US officials, including members of Congress and HR McMaster, the retired three-star general who was then the White House national security adviser. But the document, citing an interview of General McMaster by federal agents, said General Allen never informed General McMaster that he was being paid for his work.

The document also describes General Allen’s efforts to obstruct the investigation by lying to federal agents who questioned him about his lobbying efforts during an interview last August, and withholding documents that showed his financial interest in his interactions with Qatari officials.

“Allen’s production was devoid of any documents revealing his financial interest in the diplomatic crisis and nearly devoid of any documents showing the involvement of Zuberi and Olson,” the search warrant said.

General Allen is a former deputy commander of US Central Command, which is responsible for the Middle East and a major base in Qatar.

His move to central command helped him forge ties with senior Qatari leaders, including Sheikh Tamim bin Hamad al-Thani, the country’s emir. In 2011, he received a fourth star and assumed command of all US and NATO troops in Afghanistan until 2013.

In 2016, the year before the court document began, his lobbying effort for Qatar began, General Allen was an adviser to Hillary Clinton’s presidential campaign, and he spoke at the Convention that year. National Democrat.

He took over as chairman of Brookings in November 2017.

Brookings once had a large campus in Doha. The campus was established years before General Allen became chairman of the think tank. In September, according to its website, Brookings ended its affiliation with the Doha institute, which is now called the Middle East Council on Global Affairs.

Contemporary notes from Mr. Olson on a June 2017 conference call show that Mr. Zuberi agreed to pay the group’s travel expenses and General Allen’s speaking expenses, but stressed the need for secrecy.

The record suggests that General Allen also sought other forms of payment. An Israeli security firm, Fifth Dimension, had agreed to pay him $10,000 a month plus a 1.5% commission on any new business he generated, and he credited himself for persuading Qatar to sign a $72 million contract with the company over the same weekend. trip – potentially earning him a fee of over a million dollars.

His approval would “likely complete their decision-making,” he wrote to the company in an email cited in the filing.

General Allen also served on the board of a Texas-based artificial intelligence company, SparkCognition, and also appears to have tried to sell a $30 million contract for his services in Qatar. “The matter is in their hands,” General Allen wrote to the chief executive shortly after he returned from his visit.

General Allen appeared to acknowledge that he was in fact working as a contractor on the lobbying effort, especially after the Emir of Qatar and other senior officials insisted on excluding Mr Zuberi from a meeting with the former general and former ambassador.

“You should have stepped in and said no, you should stay,” Mr. Zuberi fumed in a WhatsApp message to the ambassador, adding: “Does General Allen know his place or position?

In an apologetic email, General Allen, according to court documents, thanked Mr. Zuberi “for his leadership” and expressed regret for his exclusion. “I think there are a lot of opportunities,” he added.

Mark Mazzetti reported from Washington and David D. Kirkpatrick from New York. Seamus Hughes contributed report.


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