Creating new perspectives since 2009

Luxembourg bank helped UAE’s MBZ bypass US sanctions, attack Qatar, report reveals

December 22, 2020 at 3:22 pm

Abu Dhabi’s Crown Prince Mohammed Bin Zayed in Berlin, Germany on 11 June 2019 [Sean Gallup/Getty Images]

A report by Bloomberg News has uncovered further details of the sordid relationship between UAE Crown Prince Mohammed Bin Zayed and the Luxembourg-based private bank, Banque Havilland. A trove of emails, documents, legal filings reviewed by the American news agency, and interviews with former insiders, revealed that services provided by Banque Havilland to Bin Zayed, better known as MBZ, went beyond normal standard practice.

MBZ, who the bank referred to as “the boss”, was offered services that went beyond financial advice. According to the Bloomberg report, it included scouting for deals in Zimbabwe, setting up a company to buy the image rights of players on the Abu Dhabi-owned Manchester City Football Club and helping place the bank’s chairman at the time on the board of Human Rights Watch after it published reports critical of the country.

None though were as brazen as the 2017 plan for an assault on the financial markets of Qatar in an effort to sabotage the Gulf kingdom’s economy. Details of the financial war were widely reported at the time as was the lawsuit filed by Doha against three banks, including Banque Havilland, accusing them of causing billions of dollars of damage to its economy.

The dubious nature of the service offered by the bank to MBZ didn’t end with Qatar. Will Tricks, a former official at the UK’s foreign intelligence service MI6 who had swapped career and was working for Banque Havilland, assisted the Crown Prince to get a foothold in Zimbabwe. Though the country was subject to US and European Union sanctions that banned dealings with former President Robert Mugabe’s inner circle and many of its state-owned companies, a plan was devised to bypass the sanctions.

Emails uncovered by Bloomberg show that Tricks passed on advice about setting up a trust in Abu Dhabi for any Zimbabwe deals to hide the identities of investors from the US Treasury Department, which oversees sanctions enforcement.

Eyebrows have also been raised over the $2 million donated to Human Rights Watch (HRW) by financier David Rowland and executives at Banque Havilland. This followed a 2011 report by the rights group which criticised the UAE over the arrest and harassment of activists, including Ahmed Mansoor during the Arab Spring uprisings.

Egypt: No agreements made to end Gulf blockade of Qatar 

The gift was made through Rowland’s newly established 66 Humanitarian Foundation, which said it was committed to defending human rights in the Middle East. The foundation’s chairman, Graham Robeson, was elected to the Human Rights Watch board a few months later, in April 2012. Robeson, a former chairman of Banque Havilland, was named to the advocacy group’s Middle East and North Africa advisory committee.

According to Bloomberg, the foundation appears to have had no other purpose than making the HRW donations. The suggestion is that the donations and Robeson’s installation into a senior position would take the spotlight away from the UAE. Human Rights Watch has said that the former Banque Havilland employee “had no role in the planning, design or execution of [our] work, and [we] pulled no punches in condemning the UAE’s appalling human rights record before, during or after his tenure with us.”

Robeson was asked to step down from his role at Human Rights Watch last month after Bloomberg Businessweek published an article about the bank.

Services provided by the bank also included schemes to bypass the ban imposed by the Union of European Football Associations on clubs from spending more than they earned.   To assist the Abu Dhabi owned football club, Manchester City, overcoming this hurdle, Banque Havilland did the financial leg work. It set up a company that paid the club a one-time fee of some $33 million for the players’ image rights and assumed the $16 million cost of compensating them for their marketing appearances. Behind the scenes, Abu Dhabi reimbursed the bank.

The plan, however, didn’t pass muster with UEFA, which in 2015 wrote to the club asking it to take back more than $13 million in image rights payments a year.

Netanyahu, UAE Crown Prince nominated for Nobel Peace Prize