Former US ambassador to UAE Richard Olson to plead guilty to illegal lobbying

Official violated 'revolving door' lobby rules, court records show

Richard Olson at his 2012 confirmation hearing to become ambassador to Pakistan. AP

Richard Olson, a former US ambassador to the UAE, is set to plead guilty for improperly helping Qatar try to influence US policy and not disclosing on a government ethics form gifts he received from a disgraced political fundraiser.

Court records filed this month say that Mr Olson, who was the State Department's special representative for Afghanistan and Pakistan at the end of the Obama administration, provided “aid and advice” to Qatar on lobbying activities in breach of a “revolving door” prohibition against such behaviour for one year after leaving public service.

He served as ambassador to the UAE from 2008 to 2011.

Mr Olson, who also served as US ambassador to Pakistan, indicated in a signed filing this month that he intends to plead guilty. It is unclear if he’s co-operating in other investigations.

The case represents one of the more high-profile efforts by the Justice Department in recent years to crack down on unreported or illegal influence campaigns funded by foreign governments aimed at altering US policy.

Federal prosecutors also said that while at the State Department, Mr Olson failed to disclose certain financial benefits he received from a Californian businessman named Imaad Zuberi.

Once a major political donor, Zuberi is now serving a 12-year prison sentence for funnelling illegal campaign contributions to politicos in both major parties and then peddling the resulting influence to foreign governments.

The new court records do not use Zuberi's name, but The Associated Press was able to identify him based on court filings in other cases, letters a Zuberi representative has sent to Congress, and interviews with his associates.

Neither the Justice Department nor Mr Olson's lawyer immediately returned requests for comment.

The newly filed court documents also show that Mr Olson worked with Zuberi to win US government approval for a pre-clearance facility at the Doha airport, which would allow US-bound passengers to clear customs before they left Qatar.

Such approval would expand the number of US cities the Doha airport could serve and give it an advantage over competitors in the Gulf, prosecutors said.

As ambassador, Mr Olson had worked as part of his official mandate to establish a pre-clearance facility at the Abu Dhabi International Airport.

- With The Associated Press

Updated: April 28, 2022, 4:46 AM