Trump inaugural committee head accused of being UAE agent

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Trump inaugural committee head accused of being UAE agent

Los Angeles, July 21

The chair of former President Donald Trump’s 2017 inaugural committee was arrested on Tuesday on charges alleging that he secretly conspired to influence US policy to benefit the United Arab Emirates, even while he was seeking a position as an American diplomat.

Tom Barrack, 74, of Santa Monica, California, was among three men charged in federal court in Brooklyn, New York, with acting as unregistered foreign agents as they tried to influence US policy on the UAE’s behalf while Trump was running in 2016 and later while he was president.

The indictment goes to the heart of the

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US’ long-time close relationship with the UAE and directly ties its de facto ruler, Abu Dhabi Crown Prince Mohammed bin Zayed Al Nahyan, to Barrack’s charges.

Besides conspiracy, Barrack was charged with obstruction of justice and making multiple false statements during a June 2019 interview with federal agents. Also charged in a seven-count indictment were Matthew Grimes, 27, of Aspen, Colorado, who is a former executive at Barrack’s company, and Rashid al Malik, 43, a businessman from the United Arab Emirates, who, prosecutors said, acted as a conduit to that nation’s rulers.

One of Trump’s close personal friends for decades, Barrack is the latest in a long line of the former president’s associates to face criminal charges, including his former campaign chair, his former deputy campaign chair, his former chief strategist, his former national security adviser, his former personal lawyer and his company’s long-time chief financial officer.

Barrack and Grimes were arrested in Southern California while al Malik was at large, believed to be living somewhere in the Middle East, authorities said. In court papers, prosecutors said al Malik was living in Los Angeles for years before fleeing the US three days after an April 2018 interview by law enforcement. The UAE, which hosts thousands of US troops and aircraft on the Arabian Peninsula, did not respond to requests for comment on Wednesday on the indictment.

At an initial hearing in Los Angeles federal court, Barrack’s lawyer, Ronak D Desai, agreed that his client could remain detained until a hearing next Monday after prosecutors submitted written arguments saying he should be denied bail as a risk to flee.

US Magistrate Judge Patricia Donahue called Grimes a “serious risk of flight” and also ordered him detained pending a hearing on Monday.

Attorney Michael Freedman, representing Grimes, said his client had no criminal history, no longer worked for Barrack’s company and didn’t have the access investigators alleged he once had.

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“He is a fairly low-level individual in all of this,” Freedman said.

Neither man entered a plea.

Barrack raised USD 107 million for Trump’s inaugural celebration, which was scrutinised both for its lavish spending and for attracting numerous foreign officials and businesspeople looking to lobby the new administration.

While the indictment made no allegations of wrongdoing by the inaugural committee, or by Trump — who was referenced only as “the Candidate,” the “President-Elect” and “the President” — it said Barrack boasted that he had been a 30-year partner of Trump and could help the UAE gain US influence.

“The defendants repeatedly capitalised on Barrack’s friendships and access to a candidate who was eventually elected President, high-ranking campaign and government officials, and the American media to advance the policy goals of a foreign government without disclosing their true allegiances,” Acting Assistant Attorney General Mark Lesko said.

Barrack has denied wrongdoing.

“Barrack has made him voluntarily available to investigators from the outset. He is not guilty and will be pleading not guilty,” a spokesperson said.

Emirati officials were not identified by name either, though details in the indictment link back to Sheikh Mohammed. The crown prince also found himself entangled in special counsel Robert Mueller’s report on Russian interference in America’s 2016 election.

Prosecutors said Barrack also provided UAE government officials with sensitive information about developments within the Trump administration — including how senior US officials felt about a years-long boycott of Qatar conducted by the UAE and other Middle Eastern countries. AP   

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