Adviser to powerful UAE crown prince witnessed meeting between Trump and Putin associates in Seychelles, New York Times reports
An adviser to Abu Dhabi Crown Prince Mohammed bin Zayed is cooperating with the US special prosecutor investigating possible collusion between Russia and Donald Trump's presidential campaign, the New York Times reported on Tuesday, citing two anonymous sources.
Lebanese businessman George Nader, who reportedly visits the White House frequently, has become a target of the probe because of his efforts on behalf of the UAE to "buy political influence" in the Trump administration via campaign contributions, according to the Times.
Special counsel Robert Mueller is also looking into a January 2017 meeting between Trump associate Erik Prince and Russian banker Kirill Dmitriev, which was set up by bin Zayed in the Indian Ocean islands of Seychelles, according to the newspaper.
Dmitriev has close ties to President Vladimir Putin. The alleged goal of the meeting was to establish a diplomatic backchannel between Moscow and the Trump transition team.
Prince is the founder of Blackwater, a private military company whose members murdered 17 civilians in Baghdad in 2007. The firm now operates under the name Academi, and its mercenaries are reported to be fighting with UAE forces against Houthi rebels in Yemen.
The Blackwater founder was not an official member of the transition team, but he is close to Trump and his advisers, and his sister Betsy DeVos was appointed by the US president as secretary of education.
In November, Prince told US lawmakers that he was in the Seychelles to discuss business opportunities with bin Zayed. He said he had an unplanned encounter with Dmitriev, where they chatted about oil prices and US-Russian relations.
"I remember telling him that if Franklin Roosevelt could work with Joseph Stalin to defeat fascism, certainly the United States could work with Vladimir Putin to defeat Islamic fascism," Prince said.
According to a Washington Post article on Wednesday, a person of interest who is cooperating with Mueller's investigation told the special counsel that a meeting with the Russians in the Seychelles had been planned in advance.
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Nader was present at the Seychelles meeting, according to the Times. But he is now likely to become a witness for the prosecution after appearing in front of a grand jury last week, the newspaper reported.
Earlier this week, leaked emails revealed that Elliott Broidy, a top Republican fundraiser who owns businesses in the UAE, told Nader that Secretary of State Rex Tillerson must be fired because of his stance on the Gulf crisis.
In June, the UAE joined Saudi Arabia and its allies in boycotting Qatar.
Almost immediately after the rift began, Trump took the side of Abu Dhabi and Riyadh, implying on several occasions that the sanctions on Qatar were imposed in coordination with Washington.
But the US State Department and Pentagon took a more cautious approach, calling for an end to the feud.
The US president changed his tone on the row in January of this year, praising Doha's "counter-terrorism" efforts.