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Baklava and Big Sister: Nader's alleged scheme to fund Clinton with foreign money

Unsealed indictment alleges George Nader funnelled $3.5m from a Middle Eastern country to candidate with help of a colourful cast of characters
Presidential hopeful Hillary Clinton on stage at the 2016 Democratic National Convention which Nader was sworn off attending (AFP)

Six months before the 2016 US presidential elections, the baklava was late for the party.

At least, that’s what George Nader and Andy Khawaja were discussing on WhatsApp, according to an indictment unsealed in a Washington, DC federal court this week.

For weeks, Nader, an advisor to Abu Dhabi Crown Prince Mohammed bin Zayed, promised Khawaja, the CEO of a West Hollywood-based payment-processing company, in exclamation mark-laden messages that the Middle Eastern pastries were on their way. 

“I repeat don’t worry about it! It is done! Just had to come on certain truck and delivery that is taken couple extra days for delicacy and since it is very fragile!” Nader texted Khawaja that June, according to the indictment.

'Fresh hand made Baklava on the way designed especially for that private event at your house later this month!'

- WhatsApp message from Nader to Khawaja

Baklava, cookies, goodies: all codewords that the two Lebanese-Americans, who reportedly met in the UAE in 2015, used in a scheme that prosecutors say eventually saw Khawaja and six others donate $3.5m to one of the presidential candidates and related political committees.

The arrangement outlined in the indictment would bring together a squad straight out of central casting.

Nader, a convicted paedophile, was a seasoned political fixer who had sought to make himself indispensable to consecutive US administrations with a promise of connecting them to high-profile figures in the Middle East. But he has also been described by former associates as "a village idiot" who knew little about the region.

Khawaja was a handsome multimillionaire, photographed at fancy LA parties and the creator of his own reality TV show about models. Like Nader, he had his own run-ins with the law. Specifically, his company, Allied Wallet, came under fire from the Federal Trade Commission on charges it helped illegal websites launder money.

According to the indictment, Nader funnelled money from a country in the Middle East to Khawaja, who then gave donations to Clinton and related committees in his name.

Khawaja, in turn, gave some of Nader's money to six others - including the owner of a liquor, wine and cigar store in Las Vegas, the elected board president of his local school district, and a one-time law clerk who became a producer of Khawaja's reality show - so that donations could continue to be made to the candidate without hitting the legal limit, the indictment alleges.

The candidate is not named in the indictment, but it is clear through the use of pronouns that it is referring to Hillary Clinton. Nader and Khawaja, according to the indictment, referred to her as "Big Sister" and "Big Lady".

Additionally, Clinton’s campaign calendar shows that she was in Los Angeles and Las Vegas when prosecutors say Khawaja hosted events for the candidate. There is no indication that Clinton or her staff were aware of the scheme.

Middle East Eye has asked lawyers for both Nader and Khawaja to comment, but did not receive a response.

The aim of the scheme, prosecutors say, was two-fold: to gain influence with Clinton and also to curry favour with “Foreign Country A”, as it's called in the indictment, which the New York Times on Thursday reported as the UAE.

Middle East Eye has asked the UAE embassies in London and Washington whether the country was involved in Nader’s scheme, but had not received a response by the time of publication. 

Bakery in full swing

As his donations filled Clinton’s coffers that summer, Khawaja hosted several fundraisers for her, including at least one at his home in June 2016 which featured Bill Clinton, according to the indictment in which he is referred to as “Individual 1”. 

Khawaja appears to have paid out of his own pocket for several of the donations, trusting that Nader would eventually pay him back. “Hi George, 4 days left for the Sunday event and Still nothing arrived yesterday or today??” he texted Nader in June. 

'Had a meeting with my Big Sister H. You will be most delighted!'

- What'sApp message from Nader to foreign official

Eventually, Khawaja’s company, Allied Wallet, received a €2.5m wire transfer from Nader’s company. It was masked by a false invoice claiming to be a one-year licence for software that Allied Wallet was providing to Nader’s company, according to the indictment. 

“Fresh hand made Baklava on the way designed especially for that private event at your house later this month! First tray on the way,” Nader messaged Khawaja shortly before the payment arrived.

“You have got to lose some weight for the upcoming tray of Baklava next week. Once you taste it and you like the choices more on the way soon.”

While he kept Khawaja relatively happy, Nader was simultaneously sending regular messages to an unnamed foreign official whom he refers to as "HH", presumably meaning "his highness". 

Nader assured HH that his efforts were going well, asked to meet with the official in order to get their “blessings and instructions” and shared a photo he had taken with Bill Clinton, according to the indictment.

“Had a meeting with my Big Sister H. You will be most delighted!” Nader texted the official.

The official apparently advised Nader to avoid attending the Democratic National Convention in Philadelphia in July 2016, even though Khawaja, using his country’s money, had obtained box seats.

“He thinks I am better of [sic] with the smaller private one but the convention you are too exposed!” Nader wrote to an associate, referring to the foreign official.

Playing both sides

Nader, in classic Nader strategy which has seen him work with consecutive administrations from both sides of the aisles, was also busy cultivating the Trump campaign, telling the official that he had developed “a steady, consistent and constructive relationship with both camps!” 

A little over a month after Nader was at the Clinton fundraiser at Khawaja’s home, he was reportedly meeting with Donald Trump Jr and Israeli social media specialist Joel Zamel at Trump’s headquarters in New York City.

The meeting, organised by the private security contractor Erik Prince, was a chance for Nader and Zamel to offer help to Trump’s campaign and forge ties with the future administration, the New York Times reported. 

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The encounter would also later reportedly come on the radar of special counsel Robert Mueller, who was investigating allegations of Russian interference in the same election.

Meanwhile, back on the West Coast, Khawaja continued to host fundraisers for Clinton but found himself hitting the legal contribution limit. 

And that’s when he gave $1m to the six men, three of whom worked for his company, to continue donating to Clinton and related political committees, according to the indictment.

Less than a month before the election, Khawaja hosted an event for Clinton in Las Vegas, but Clinton’s representatives asked that Nader not attend because he “had not contributed anything”, according to the indictment.

Khawaja, however, demanded that Nader be able to attend and eventually he went. “Had a simply Terrific Magnificent brainstorming and discussion with the Big Lady This evening!” he later wrote to an official from the unnamed foreign government.

Nader also texted Khawaja that he had written to “HH” about the event. “He was thrilled and want [sic] to know all about it in person,” he said.

For all of Nader and Khawaja’s alleged baklava deliveries and birthday party hosting, Clinton was not elected, but the two men still found themselves seated at the table of power.

Soon after the election, Khawaja, according to the indictment, contributed $1m to Donald Trump’s inaugural committee and received a ticket to the inauguration as a result. As the 45th US president was sworn in on 20 January 2017, Khawaja watched on with Nader as his guest.