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Ludicrous but dangerous: Saudi, Emirati Western PR efforts may amount to meddling Open in fullscreen

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Ludicrous but dangerous: Saudi, Emirati Western PR efforts may amount to meddling

Saudi PR campaigns in overdrive ahead of MbS visit to London, Washington [Twitter]

Date of publication: 6 March, 2018

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Successive revelations show the deep reach of Saudi and Emirati-funded lobby groups in Western capitals, in what could amount to internal political meddling.
Successive revelations this week have shown the deep reach of Saudi and Emirati-funded lobby groups in the capitals of the world's most powerful nations, in what could amount to meddling in their internal politics.

Ahead of a much-hyped visit by Saudi Arabia's powerful Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman to London and Washington to market himself as the future king, Saudi and Emirati lobbying has gone into overdrive.

Posters of MbS have popped up across London with corny slogans such as "United KingdomS" and "He is bringing change to Saudi Arabia" to promote MbS' credentials as a reformer.

Still, human rights groups planning protests over his role in the Yemen war are not convinced

While this kind of PR may be harmless, Western commentators are worried about a more insiduous type of lobbying in their countries, with Riyadh and Abu Dhabi pumping hundreds of millions of dollars into pressure groups, think-tanks, universities and communication firms in London and Washington.

On Tuesday, the Bureau for Investigative Journalism revealed an alarming conflict of interest within the British government, after discovering that a senior British diplomat is working for a PR firm funded by Saudi Arabia whilst still employed by the Foreign Office.

The BIJ named the official as Jolyon Welsh, Deputy Director for the Middle East, and said he was given special unpaid leave in 2014 to become a senior director of Consulum, a PR firm founded by former executives from the notorious agency Bell Pottinger whose client list includes Mohammed Bin Salman.

"The revelation raises fresh questions about revolving doors between Whitehall and PR firms acting for foreign governments," said the lengthy report.
On Tuesday, The Guardian published a leaked memo suggesting a US law firm influenced investigation into £43bn deal between UK arms maker BAE and Saudi Arabia, involving bribery allegations
Perverting justice 

That was only one of a raft of revelations coming out this week about Saudi Arabia's shady dealings in the lobbying 'swamps'.

On Tuesday, The Guardian published a leaked memo suggesting a US law firm influenced an investigation into £43bn deal between UK arms maker BAE and Saudi Arabia, involving bribery allegations, with the final outcome "watered down following a secret lobbying campaign" on behalf of Riyadh.

“Whether it is with JASTA or it’s with Yemen, they are trying to whitewash some very bad stuff," lobbying analyst Ben Freeman of the Center for International Policy told The American Conservative last week for a report on Saudi lobbying efforts in the US.

JASTA (the Justice Against State Terrorism Act) was pursued by families of 9/11 victims to take the kingdom to court for its alleged ties to the hijackers behind the terror attacks in 2011. Following intense lobbying and threats by Riyadh, a watered-down version was passed in 2016 that will make it unlikely for the families to obtain justice.

And it's not just the Saudis. On Monday, the BBC said it saw leaked emails that show a UAE-led lobbying effort to get US Secretary of State Rex Tillerson sacked for failing to support the United Arab Emirates against regional rival Qatar.

The lobbying allegedly involved major Trump fundraiser and UAE-linked businessman Elliott Broidy, who reportedly met US President Donald Trump in October 2017 and urged him to sack Tillerson.

Broidy has denied the claims and alleged Qatar had hacked his emails, which in turn was denied by Doha.

The claims about the Emirati push to get Tillerson sacked may have crossed a red line.

Over the weekend, The New York Times reported that US investigators are looking into possible attempts by the UAE to "buy influence" in Washington.

Robert S. Mueller III, the special counsel, is investigating claims of Russian interference in the 2016 election. Now his team is looking at claims the UAE funnelled money to Donald Trump's campaign team during his successful election bid.

New information has led the Mueller investigation team to question Lebanese-American businessman George Nader, who has been an adviser to the UAE's de-facto ruler Sheikh Mohammed bin Zayed, the New York Times claims.

The Mueller team are also looking into claims that Nader received a confidential report from the same Trump fundraiser Elliott Broidy.

Mueller is also investigating Trump's son in law Jared Kushner, a friend of UAE Washington ambassador Yousef al-Otaiba, for his role in the Qatar crisis, according to The Intercept.

"That could plainly be of worry for Trump, but Kushner too... given the failure of the siege against Qatar and the bizarre moves by its Gulf Arab protagonists," said the report.

Read more: 

UK opposition leader calls for Saudi arms sales halt ahead of crown prince visit

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