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UAE implicated in Trump election 'finance for favours' probe: Report

Special Counsel Robert Mueller is investigating Lebanese-American businessman George Nader, an adviser to the UAE's crown prince
Abu Dhabi's Crown Prince Sheikh Mohammed bin Zayed al-Nahyan meets with US President Donald Trump in the Oval Office at the White House on 15 May 2017 (Reuters)

Potential attempts by the United Arab Emirates to purchase influence and get the White House to back its regional policy are being investigated by a special team looking into US election fraud, a weekend report has revealed. 

A team led by Robert Mueller, the special counsel in charge of investigating Russian interference in the 2016 US election, is also interested in the activities of George Nader, a Lebanese-American businessman who is also adviser to the UAE’s crown prince, according to a New York Times report published at the weekend. 

The reason and content of Nader’s frequent visits to the White House in the past year, in which he is said to have met with US President Donald Trump's son-in-law Jared Kushner and Steve Bannon, Trump’s former senior political adviser, are of particular interest, according to the report. 

"Mueller's investigators have questioned Nader and have pressed witnesses for information about any possible attempts by the Emiratis to buy political influence by directing money to support Trump during the presidential campaign, according to people with knowledge of the discussions," the paper reported. 

Mueller’s investigators have questioned Nader and have pressed witnesses for information about any possible attempts by the Emiratis to buy political influence by directing money to support Trump during the presidential campaign

- New York Times

The timing of this report is likely to prove irksome and awkward for Saudi Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman, who on Sunday set off on his first foreign visit since taking power in what was described by some informed circles as a "palace coup" in June 2017. 

Salman completely sidelined Mohammed bin Nayaf, a previously highly trusted US ally, particularly in the wake of 9/11.   

Salman's first foreign tour sees him visit Egypt on Sunday followed by trips to the United Kingdom and the United States. 

The report is likely to put an uncomfortable spotlight on Salman, a staunch ally of the UAE and - along with Egypt and Bahrain - the driving force that sought to regionally isolate Qatar in 2017, when they placed it under blockade ostensibly for not bowing to Salman's vision. 

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Sources have also told MEE that it was the UAE which facilitated introductions and a working relationship between Salman and Kushner. 

In that light, the Muller investigation into the UAE's alleged meddling in the US election is likely to tarnish Salman's first visit to Washington as crown prince. 

The NYT obtained a note sent to Nader by Elliott Broidy, a millionaire and major supporter of Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu.

The note mentions Broidy's attempts to convince the White House to adopt pro-UAE policies in the wake of his visit there. 

In the note, Broidy is said to have written that he had lobbied Trump to meet Prince Mohammed bin Zayed, the Abu Dhabi crown prince, in a private, informal setting, outside of the White House, but the informal meet was constantly opposed by Trump's national security adviser, General H R  McMaster.  

The report also casts Saudi and UAE non-objection, if not outright support, to Trump's move to relocate the US Embassy in Israel to Jerusalem in a different light. The two countries offered only token objection to Trump's decision when it was announced in December 2017. 

The US decision and Saudi silence on it caused deep unease in the Jordanian government, another staunch US ally. 

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Those events pushed Amman closer to the Turkish position, which had already decided to act independently of any Saudi-UAE-US plan for the region despite its own concerns regarding Iranian expansionism. 

Ankara openly sided with Qatar when the tiny Gulf state was targeted by the Saudi-UAE led bloc. 

While advisers to foreign leaders are not barred from advocating on behalf of their employers, it is against US election laws to try to sway elections by resorting to financial incentives. 

Mueller has so far indicted 19 people for their role in Russian interference. But his team now sees the role of Middle Eastern states with the Trump administration and his election as an equally serious matter.

Mueller has also previously investigated Michael Flynn, a former national security adviser to Trump, for his Russian contacts but also for his working on behalf of the Turkish government.

The revelations in this report are likely to lead to some prickly questions during the Washington leg of the visit by Salman, a self-styled reformer, who also wants to portray himself as an anti-corruption tsar.    


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