Ritz owner among Qatari groups seeking immunity in terror cash case

Syrian refugees take legal action over Qatar's alleged links to notorious extremist group Nusra Front

The Ritz London hotel is seen in Piccadilly, London, Britain, October 10, 2019.  REUTERS/Toby Melville

The owner of the Ritz Hotel in London is among several Qatari groups seeking immunity over claims that they secretly funded extremists in Syria.

Abdulhadi Mana Al Hajri is being sued by nine Syrian refugees who took legal action in the UK's High Court last year after claiming they were subject to torture and religious persecution at the hands of Nusra Front.

The claimants allege that Qataris and other institutions used illicit means, including money laundering, to send hundreds of millions of dollars to the Al Qaeda-affiliated terror group during the Syrian Civil War.

The defendants, which also include Qatar National Bank and Doha Bank, have denied the claims and are seeking for the case to be dismissed this week.

Legal representatives say their clients are subject to state immunity and that the High Court has no jurisdiction to hear the case as the alleged wrongdoing was carried out on behalf of agents working for the Qatari state.

Tom Otty QC, for Mr Al Hajri, said “the core allegation [is] that the entire conspiracy was on behalf of the state of Qatar,” he said. Therefore the case was "manifestly against the agents of Qatar” and as such the claims were “barred by state act immunity”.

Lawyers for the defendants say the case should be barred as allegations are against agents working for the Qatari state. AFP.

Ben Emmerson QC, counsel for the claimants, argued that the UK is obligated under international law to clamp down on terror financing and therefore the case falls under the jurisdiction of its courts.

He said the defendants had no entitlement to state immunity because the “financing of terrorism by Qatar is, as a matter of international law, outside Qatar’s sovereign authority”.

He added that “individuals and entities associated with the state of Qatar engaged in a large-scale, clandestine arrangement to fund a terrorist group in Syria”.

The defendants are accused of “laundering and channelling of funds by way of transfers through accounts held with [the two banks] . . . direct payments made by certain of the defendants and unlawful acts to coerce and secure the participation of individuals . . . into participating in terrorist financing”.

Some of the defendants are understood to occupy positions of influence in Qatari society and Mr Al Hajri is the brother-in-law of Emir Sheikh Tamim.

The Ritz Hotel, known as a hotbed of high-society glamour for over a century, sold for a reported £800 billion ($990bn) in March 2020 at the height of the coronavirus outbreak.

Opened in 1906 by Swiss hotelier Cesar Ritz, the hotel was previously frequented by Charlie Chaplin in the 1920s. It was also used as a meeting place by Britain's wartime prime minister Winston Churchill and other allied leaders to discuss operations during the Second World War.

The hearing continues.

Updated: May 05, 2022, 1:25 PM