by Eli Clifton
UAE ambassador to the United States Yousef Al-Otaiba and his advisers are apparently concerned about the ambassador’s ties to Malaysia’s 1Malaysia Development Berhad (1MDB), a state fund defrauded of $4.5 billion. Hacked emails sent to LobeLog by “GlobalLeaks” show Richard Mintz, a UAE lobbyist at The Harbour Group, Simon Pearce, an adviser to the Executive Affairs Authority of Abu Dhabi, and Otaiba discussing their concerns about the ambassador facing questions about the 1MDB fraud at a future panel discussion hosted by the anti-Iran deal group, United Against Nuclear Iran (UANI).
The panel, as discussed in the alleged emails among Otaiba, Mintz, and Pearce as well as other Harbour Group employees, was originally to be moderated by UANI’s CEO, former George W. Bush administration diplomat Mark Wallace. It was to feature Otaiba alongside Thomas Kaplan, a precious metal speculator who links a number of his investments to instability in the Middle East.
Kaplan was a major funder of UANI alongside Republican megadonor Sheldon Adelson. The Justice Department identified Kaplan’s firm, the Electrum Group, as receiving $150 million in laundered funds from 1MDB.
Emails provided by GlobalLeaks to the Wall Street Journal last month suggested that a firm linked to Otaiba also profited from the 1MDB fraud. On June 30, the Journal’s Bradley Hope and Tom Wright wrote:
Companies connected to Yousef Al Otaiba, the ambassador, received $66 million from offshore companies that investigators in the U.S. and Singapore have said contained funds misappropriated from 1Malaysia Development Bhd, the documents show.
There have been no public disclosures as to the purpose of the transfers, and Mr. Otaiba declined to comment on them.
Indeed, emails provided to LobeLog indicate that Otaiba and his advisers were very concerned about fielding questions about 1MDB and associating themselves with Kaplan.
Mintz, in a September 9 email to Otaiba, wrote:
Your panel is now just you and Kaplan, moderated by Mark Wallace. I’m not excited about having you up there just with Kaplan – considering 1MDB links and that he is biggest $ behind UANI. Another option is to add someone else to panel—someone like Mattis or Winnifeld, I spoke to Jay [Solomon] about it and WSJ wasn’t comfortable having him appear considering book, Optics not good for WSJ, (Considering this is open event, you should be ready if a iMDB [sic] question comes at you from a reporter during or after the panel. I’ll work with Simon on this.
Minutes later, Pearce wrote to Otaiba and Mintz. He said, “I want us to seriously talk about withdrawing.”
The next day, Pearce wrote to Otaiba, “Chief Kaplan is just too much of an issue—I would please ask you to pull clear of him. He needs to be diluted by at you and two other significant speakers.”
On September 12, Pearce wrote to Otaiba, “We just need more people so that it looks like a legitimate forum—One more on top of the three of you (including Solomon) would do it.”
Presumably referencing Saudi Minister of Foreign Affairs Adel al-Jubeir, Otaiba wrote back, “Adel will let me know today or tomorrow. If agrees, it will be easy to pull in one other good name.”
Pearce responded, “Sounds good Chief. Caplan [sic] needs to have the ‘shepherds crook treatment’ too.”
Emails provided to LobeLog originated from a Russia-based email account, but it’s unclear if the hackers or the operator of the email account are based in Russia or are simply trying to disguise their country of origin. The emails were selectively curated, and most emails are provided as stand-alone fragments of longer email chains not included in the cache provided to LobeLog. Earlier this week, Lobelog published email excerpts that showed Otaiba and UAE lobbyists appearing to discuss financial support for UANI and its affiliated group, the Counter Extremism Project (CEP).
LobeLog was not provided with emails showing how Otaiba and Pearce resolved the touchy issue around the panel. On September 19, however, Otaiba attended UANI’s ’Iran Risk Summit” at the Roosevelt Hotel in Manhattan. He was interviewed by Wallace in a friendly one-on-one format.
But UAE’s possible funding of UANI and the awkwardness of a potential public appearance of Kaplan alongside Otaiba wasn’t the only instance in which Otaiba crossed paths with individuals involved in 1MDB.
Jho Low, the Malaysian financier named by the Justice Department as the central conspirator in the $4.5 billion heist, contributed $20 million to Panthera, a large cats charity set up by Kaplan. Low was listed on the group’s board of directors in 2015 tax filings. Otaiba is identified as a member of Panthera’s “conservation council” on the group’s website.
According to the WSJ’s reporting on Otaiba’s links to 1MDB, “Otaiba and Low have been associates since the early 2000s and Mr. Low has described his friendship with Mr. Otaiba in interviews over the years.”
The UAE Embassy in Washington, Simon Pearce, and Richard Mintz did not respond to written requests for comment about the 1MDB discussion in the emails. UANI did not respond to questions about UAE’s possible funding of their organization.
Photo: Yousef Al-Otaiba with his arm around Jho Low at the 2014 Children’s Ball, a fundraiser for Children’s National Foundation. (Posted by Low’s charity, the Jynwel Foundation)