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US retired general resigns from Brookings Institution over Qatar lobbying probe

Former commander of US troops in Afghanistan under investigation over allegedly trying to aid Doha during Gulf rift in 2017
US retired Marine General John Allen speaks during the final day of the 2016 Democratic National Convention in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania (AFP/File photo)

Retired US Marine General John Allen resigned as president of the Brookings Institution on Sunday after coming under investigation over alleged illegal lobbying on behalf of Qatar.

The influential Washington-based think tank had placed Allen on administrative leave last Wednesday after court filings revealed that the FBI had seized Allen’s electronic data as part of a lobbying probe.

“The integrity and objectivity of Brookings’s scholarship constitute the institution’s principal assets, and Brookings seeks to maintain high ethical standards in all its operations,” the co-chairs of the institution’s board of trustees wrote on Sunday.

FBI investigates former US general over alleged Qatar lobbying role
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“Our policies on research independence and integrity reflect these values.”

The former four-star general said in a statement: “While I leave the institution with a heavy heart, I know it is best for all concerned in this moment.”

The court filings reveal that prosecutors cited messages from Allen in which he allegedly sought payment for work helping Qatar win favour with Washington during a rift with its Gulf neighbours in 2017.

In June 2017, Saudi Arabia, the United Arab Emirates, Bahrain and Egypt severed diplomatic, trade and travel ties with Qatar over claims that it supported terrorism - a charge that Doha has long denied.

Lobbying Washington

The investigation into Allen is a part of an expanding probe that has already ensnared Richard Olson, a former ambassador to the UAE and Pakistan, who pleaded guilty to federal charges last week, and Imaad Zuberi, a prolific political donor now serving a 12-year prison sentence on corruption charges.

Allen is alleged to have travelled to Qatar with Olson and met with top officials in the Gulf emirate, offering advice on how to influence US policy and promote Doha's point of view to the White House and members of Congress.

The former general, who commanded US and Nato troops in Afghanistan, is believed to have sought $20,000 as a "speaker’s fee" for a weekend trip and then "work out a fuller arrangement of a longer-term relationship," according to an FBI affidavit. 

US federal law stipulates that any individual lobbying for a foreign government must register with the Department of Justice.

Last week, a spokesperson for the general denied wrongdoing, calling the narrative of the court filing “factually inaccurate, incomplete and misleading”.

Allen is also alleged to have used the same trip to seek to advance business dealings with Doha for two companies he was affiliated with. He used his Brookings email account for some Qatar-related communications, court papers say.

Qatar has long been one of Brookings' biggest financial backers, though it says it has stopped taking Qatari funding.

Brookings and the Qatar embassy to the US did not immediately respond to Middle East Eye's request for comment last week following the revelation of the probe