An ongoing probe by the US Justice Department and FBI into the influence wielded by wealthy Arab nations like Qatar, the United Arab Emirates and Saudi Arabia in Washington, has led to retired four-star General John Allen being placed on leave yesterday, as president of the prestigious Brookings Institution think-tank, over his alleged illegal lobbying for Doha.
Electronic data seized by the FBI apparently shows that Allen, who led US and NATO forces in Afghanistan, made false statements and withheld "incriminating" documents about his role in an illegal foreign lobbying campaign on behalf of Qatar. He is also said to have lied to investigators about his role and tried to withhold evidence sought by a federal subpoena, according to court documents.
Allen has not been charged with any crime and has denied wrongdoing. A spokesman for General Allen, Beau Phillips, said in a statement: "John Allen voluntarily cooperated with the government's investigation into this matter. John Allen's efforts with regard to Qatar in 2017 were to protect the interests of the United States and the military personnel stationed in Qatar. John Allen received no fee for his efforts."
The records about Allen were filed in April in Federal District Court in Central California in an application for a warrant to search his electronic communications. Allen was placed on leave after details of the probe were published inadvertently, though other filings in the case appear to have remained sealed.
Details of the court filing reported by the AP and the New York Times indicate that Allen lobbied on behalf Qatar by seeking to influence US policy in 2017, when Saudi Arabia, the UAE and other countries imposed a full blockade on their Gulf neighbour. Initially then President Donald Trump appeared to side against Qatar.
Allen's efforts allegedly shifted US policy. Authorities say he lobbied the then national security adviser, HR McMaster, then a serving army general, to have the administration adopt a more friendly tone. According to the court papers, Allen did not tell McMaster he was being paid for his work.
US Federal Law requires that anyone lobbying for a foreign government register with the Justice Department, which is probing into violations of the Foreign Agents Registration Act (FARA). There is no record of Allen registering to lobby for Qatar.
Prosecutors have signalled a special interest in looking into the potential violations involving Gulf nations. Last month, the Justice Department filed a new indictment in an ongoing case against Thomas Barrack, a friend and informal adviser to Trump. Barrack was charged last year over illegal lobbying on behalf of the UAE.
Last week, Richard Olson, a former US ambassador to the UAE and US special representative for Afghanistan and Pakistan, pleaded guilty to federal charges in connection with the probe. He is cooperating with prosecutors' investigation into Allen.