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US prosecutors probe suspected Gulf donations to Trump: Report

Prosecutors investigating whether Saudi, Emirati and Qatari money was funnelled illegally to Trump groups
Abu Dhabi Crown Prince Mohammed bin Zayed (L) shakes hands with Trump in Riyadh in May 2017 (AFP)

WASHINGTON DC - Prosecutors in the US are investigating whether people from Gulf states including Saudi Arabia, Qatar and the United Arab Emirates illegally paid money to President Donald Trump’s inaugural committee and a pro-Trump campaign group, the New York Times reported on Thursday.

The investigation, by federal prosecutors in New York, is separate to Robert Mueller’s inquiry into whether members of Trump’s campaign team conspired with Russia, which has also quizzed witnesses about alleged links between the Trump team and Middle Eastern donors.

It focuses on donations to Trump’s inaugural fund and to a political action committee or “super PAC”, Rebuilding America Now, which was set up in mid-2016 to support the-then Republican candidate’s final push for the White House.

US law prohibits foreign contributions to inaugural funds and super PACs and the investigation is looking into whether money from the Gulf was funnelled through American intermediaries in the US to disguise its origins.

The New York Times reported that both prosecutors investigating the donations and members of Mueller’s team have asked witnesses whether anyone from Qatar or other Gulf countries contributed money to the inaugural fund, which raised more than $100 million - more than double the sum raised by Trump's predecessor Barack Obama in 2008 and 2012.

It said that the chair of Trump’s inaugural committee, Thomas Barrack Jr, who was interviewed by Mueller’s office last year, had met wealthy individuals close to the governments of both Qatar and the UAE.

The Wall Street Journal, which also reported that prosecutors were looking at donations to the inaugural fund, said there was no sign that the investigation was targeting Barrack.

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A spokesperson for Barrack told the New York Times: "Tom has never talked with any foreign individual or entity for the purposes of raising money for or obtaining donations related to either the campaign, the inauguration or any such political activity.”

Gulf states have vied for access to Trump’s inner circle and influence in Washington since the business tycoon’s unorthodox and ultimately successful bid for the presidency started to gain momentum in early 2016.

Middle East Eye has previously reported how George Nader, an adviser to UAE Crown Prince Mohammed bin Zayed who is now cooperating as a witness in the Mueller probe, organised a secret summit of Middle Eastern leaders aboard a Red Sea yacht in late 2015.

Nader, a Lebanese-American businessman, is reported to have been questioned by Mueller’s team about any possible attempts by the Emiratis to buy influence by directing money to Trump’s campaign.

Saudi Arabia was the first overseas country visited by Trump after he became president in 2017, and his visit to Riyadh came just weeks before Saudi Arabia, the UAE and their allies initiated a blockade of Qatar.

Trump has continued to stress the importance of the US alliance with Saudi Arabia, even as the US Senate on Thursday condemned Riyadh over the killing of journalist Jamal Khashoggi and the war in Yemen

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