A senior member of the Qatari ruling family has been accused of shielding a senior business associate who is wanted in the United States over the death of a woman in an illegal 180kph car race.
Mustapha Atat, a close associate of Sheikh Khalid bin Hamad bin Khalifa Al Thani, fled from the US where he faced criminal charges in connection with the crash during the drag race on the streets of Detroit, Michigan, in October 2001.
Mr Atat’s rival in the race, Aaron Reynolds, lost control of his car in the early hours of the morning and ploughed into a small crowd, killing Denise Jones, 35.
Reynolds later pleaded guilty to involuntary manslaughter, failing to stop at the scene of a fatal accident and illicit drag racing but Mr Atat fled for Lebanon before he could be prosecuted on similar charges, according to US court documents. An arrest warrant for second degree murder was issued for him in July 2002.
Mr Atat settled in Qatar with his family in 2007 and was a driver for Sheikh Khalid's Al Anabi car-racing team. Former employees claim that Mr Atat has continued to work closely with Sheikh Khalid, even after renewed publicity about the case after it featured in a 2009 edition of US television show America's Most Wanted.
Mr Atat, wearing a branded t-shirt of one of Sheikh Khalid’s race teams, featured in a 2016 Facebook video produced by Qatar Racing Club at a workshop with other members of the team.
He was also pictured on top of the podium in February this year at a drag event in Qatar with a winner’s cheque for 12,000 Qatari rials ($3,300).
Mr Atat told The National that he continued to work for Sheikh Khalid until 2013 but had been working for himself in Lebanon for at least three years.
He said that he left the US in 2001 because he refused to give evidence as a witness at the trial of Reynolds. He said he would not return and claimed that the Americans suing Sheikh Khalid were motivated by money.
“Sheikh Khalid did a lot for me and my family and helped my kids go to college,” said Mr Atat. “He’s that kind of man.”
In a statement in 2010, Sheikh Khalid, a brother of the emir, Sheikh Tamim, said that he had only came to know Mr Atat after he moved to Qatar and was not aware of the full details of the crash in the US.
He said he had asked Mr Atat to “separate himself from Al Anabi Racing” in Qatar and “expressed my hope that he will take the necessary steps to resolve his personal legal issues”.
Former employees – who are suing Sheikh Khalid, 34, in the US over alleged unpaid wages, false imprisonment and assaults on staff– say that the statement was a smokescreen and that Mr Atat remained an integral part of his operation.
“I was physically sitting next to Mr Al Thani when this statement was issued by his attorney in London, England,” said Terry Hope, one of the six Americans suing Sheikh Khalid in a signed witness statement. “Mr Al Thani laughed and said: ‘That should shut them up for a while’.
“I personally observed Mr Atat continue working for Mr Al Thani and Mr Al Thani told us not to take videos and pictures of Mr Atat working for him.”
The race in Detroit went ahead despite four police officers turning up – and one even gambled on the outcome, according to court papers.
A court in Michigan in 2003 ordered the drivers to pay $25 million to the estate of Ms Jones who was among a crowd of 150 to 300 people watching the race.
Mr Atat said that he was not liable for any compensation claim. The lawyer for the family of Ms Jones did not return requests for comment.
Information about Mr Atat’s role in the organisation is detailed in court papers filed in Boston, Massachusetts, in which the six accuse Sheikh Khalid of brutal treatment of staff, including beating to death his own wife’s Indian chauffeur in the Qatari desert.
The National reported last month that Sheikh Khalid was accused of administering repeated powerful electric shocks to a migrant worker through an electronic dog collar after accusing his employee of mistreating a dog.
Mr Hope was employed by the sheikh for a decade from 2008 to run his car-racing team in the United States and the Middle East. Over three years, Sheikh Khalid spent some $100 million on building teams and competing, according to legal papers filed by Mr Hope and five other men.