Billionaire founders of a "charity" that provides funds to Israeli soldiers and bankrolls Canada's pro-Israel lobby groups privately offered financial support to a former Al Jazeera journalist suing the media network for over $100 million, MEMO can reveal.
Egyptian born, Mohamed Fahmy, launched a legal case against his former employers following his release from Cairo prison in 2015 alleging that the Qatari broadcaster knowingly endangered his life. Fahmy's battle with Al Jazeera was later discovered to be part of a wider campaign led by the UAE to undermine Qatar.
While leaked emails exposed that Fahmy's fight with Al Jazeera was funded by UAE's Ambassador to the US, Yousef Al-Otaiba, MEMO can reveal that funds were also made available to Fahmy from sources that were infinitely more dubious than the money given to him by the influential UAE diplomat in Washington, spearheading a campaign against Qatar.
It seems that the UAE was not alone in seeing an opportunity in Fahmy's battle with Al Jazeera. Political dissidents harbouring a grudge against Doha and, it now appears, very wealthy pro-Israeli lobbyist in Canada, looked to exploit the legal case for their own political agenda.
Details of the money offered to Fahmy by well-known Jewish Canadian billionaires were found within the tranche of documents leaked by "GlobalLeaks", an anonymous whistle-blowing group which hacked the emails of Al-Otaiba during the summer of 2016. Al-Otaiba's emails, stretching back over a decade, expose the lengths to which the absolute rulers in Abu Dhabi went to protect their own interests and undermine any opposition in the region. Thousands of emails shed light on the secret and at times nefarious dealings of the UAE.
In one correspondence sent to Al-Otaiba by Simon Pearce, who is a senior policy advisor to the UAE's Executive Affairs Authority which is said to provide strategic policy advice to Mohamed Bin Zayed, the Crown Prince of Abu Dhabi, Fahmy's PR team can be seen reporting details about his legal case as well his PR campaign in the UK and Canada.
Andrew Wigley, a staff member at the PR firm the Cape Partnership employed by Fahmy, is seen reporting to Pearce in a lengthy email dating back to October 2015; Pearce forwarded the email to the UAE ambassador. Wigley briefs Pearce on Fahmy's case, no doubt expecting that his concerns over depleting funds would be raised higher up the food chain to Al-Otaiba. He also disclosed details of the offer of financial support made available to Fahmy by a billionaire pro-Israeli couple during a private dinner. Wigley's email discussed the lawsuit in great length as well as the potential risks involved if funds dry up.
Wigley informs his UAE colleagues that the fees incurred by Fahmy and his legal team amounted to $230,000. Hoping to prevent the case from collapsing, he warns Pearce that the legal battle had entered a "critical" stage, while notifying him that Fahmy's lawyers had suspended any further work until they were paid. "Critically they are now stalling on engagement with A-J's [Al Jazeera] Canadian lawyers," Wigley complained.
Wigley expressed concerns over the time wasting by Fahmy's lawyers because they were not being paid. He feared their lack of engagement would lead Al Jazeera's lawyers to conclude Fahmy doesn't have the financing behind him to proceed. Wigley expectantly shares the advice given to him by Fahmy's lawyers telling his colleague that "it is critical not to allow A-J to sense weakness".
Al-Otaiba is informed of Fahmy's meetings in the UK including one at the Frontline Club which was attended by the human rights lawyer Amal Clooney. Wigley informs them that Clooney had "belittled" Fahmy's lawsuit on the grounds that "the issue of broadcast license – a key component of this case – was nothing more than a minor administrative technicality".
Wigley continues to brief Pearce about Fahmy's meetings in Toronto and informs him that Canada had "forged very close diplomatic relations with Israel". Wigley then appears to suggest that other influential figures in Canada also see some political mileage in Fahmy's case by informing Spencer that Fahmy was invited to dinner at the home of Gerry Schwartz and Heather Reisman, one of Canada's foremost power couples.
Schwartz and Reisman, Wigley explained, were "one of Canada's wealthiest couples" and they were "Jewish and known to be pro-Israeli". He mentioned that the couple "quizzed" Fahmy on his lawsuit before revealing that they had "privately offered financial support to pay some of the lawyer's fees".
The Canadian billionaires are not just any "pro-Israeli[s]"; they have in fact used their colossal wealth to set up pro-Israeli lobby groups as well as institutions offering grants to Israeli lone soldiers; fighters that arrive in Israel out of a deep Zionist commitment. The HESEG Foundation, which they set up in 2005 disburse scholarship funds to the foreign soldiers intending to remain in the country.
The "lone soldiers" programme which Schwartz and Reisman fund consists of foreign volunteers in the Israeli army whose numbers are said to be in their thousands. Many of these foreign recruits are hired by extremist and radical organisations in Europe. Many are also reported to have fought on the front line during the last Gaza war in 2014 and of having zealously carried out operations in the West Bank.
While MEMO is unable to confirm if Fahmy accepted the funds from the Canadian pro-Israeli billionaires, the leaked emails add to the speculations over the journalist's motives for suing Al Jazeera. These questions have dogged his legal battle from the outset; after all it was Al Jazeera's global media campaign in support of their former employee that shamed the Egyptian autocrats and helped towards his release.
Suspicions over Fahmy's motives were raised last summer following the discovery that he had received a substantial "loan" from Al-Otaiba, to cover his legal campaign against Al Jazeera. The same leaked emails also reveal that Fahmy's own PR teams were concerned that his legal battle with Al Jazeera was being compromised.
In another batch of correspondence also seen by MEMO, Wigley can be seen complaining to Pearce about individuals Fahmy had become associated with during his trip to London in 2015. "Wigley appeared particularly concerned about Fahmy's connections with Khalid Al-Hail," a Qatari opposition figure living in London. Worried over their blossoming relations, he said Fahmy was "enthralled to this Qatari" and that he had advised Fahmy against meeting him.
Wigley went on to stress the extent to which Fahmy's frequent contact with Al-Hail may impact his legal case. Reporting to Spencer in a separate email he said: "Fahmy continues to engage with self-styled Qatari opposition leader Khalid Al-Hail."
Becoming increasingly suspicious of the undue influence the Qatari dissident was having on Fahmy, Wigley even suspected Al-Hail of ghost writing Fahmy's articles which appeared in the New York Times. He appears to suggest that the article, which was heavily critical of Qatar, was Al-Hail's doing because "Fahmy … doesn't have the writing skills to produce that type of content".
One half expected to find the Emiratis quickly exploiting Fahmy for their own political agenda. But it now appears they weren't alone in realising the political mileage to be gained from his legal battle with Al Jazeera. Qatari dissidents also seem to have exploited Fahmy, because they have an axe to grind with Doha. Most surprising of all, however, is the generous offer by pro-Israelis to pay for Fahmy's lawyers.
Fahmy's case against his former employer is over the duty of care and, ostensibly, had nothing to do with politics. With these revelations, however, doubts over his motives in pursuing a legal case against Al Jazeera will remain.
The views expressed in this article belong to the author and do not necessarily reflect the editorial policy of Middle East Monitor.