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  • Detained in Dubai

UAE agent pleads guilty over US election meddling

Calls for serious re-evaluation of our ties to what is clearly a despotic and dangerous country

The government of the UAE has a problem following the rules. It is almost as if they object to the very concept of the rule of law. Within the country, the legal system is notoriously arbitrary; people can be arrested when they have committed no crime and people who flout the rules can go unpunished. Almost everyone currently serving time in UAE prisons were not convicted on the basis of evidence, but through forced confessions and charade trials. The one unofficial, but always enforced law in the UAE is the law of influence, or “wasta”. If someone has wasta they can both evade prosecution for themselves and ensure prosecution of others. As the Emirates pursues greater reach on the world stage, they seem to be approaching global influence in this same lawless manner.

George Nader is a case in point. When Abu Dhabi Crown Prince Mohammed bin Zayed, known as MBZ, wanted to increase his country’s wasta in Washington in 2016, he did not follow the rules. While it is illegal for a candidate or politician in the US to accept donations from a foreign individual or entity, there are still ways to do it under the law. The UAE could, for instance, establish a Social Welfare organisation in the United States, and that organisation could then donate to a political campaign or Super PAC; as long as the organisation was above-board, genuinely involved in social welfare projects, and spent at least half of its operating budget on non-political work. But that’s not what MBZ did.

Instead, the de facto ruler of the UAE just gave George Nader, a Lebanese-American businessman and an adviser to MBZ, $5 million dollars to give to Hillary Clinton, and another $1 million to give to the campaign of Donald Trump. They deliberately concealed the source and intention behind this money by making it appear to be a business transaction between MBZ and Nader’s UAE-based company, but the Mueller investigation into foreign meddling in the 2016 election uncovered the true nature of the contributions.

Mohammed bin Zayed was attempting to buy influence the Emirati way.