US ex-envoy to Pakistan
pleads guilty on Qatar lobbying

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By a special report

US former Ambassador to Pakistan-nominee Richard G. Olson

WASHINGTON: A former US ambassador has pleaded guilty to illegal lobbying for Qatar and accepting a lavish trip while serving as envoy to Pakistan, court documents showed.
Richard Olson, who has also served as ambassador to the United Arab Emirates and as special representative on Afghanistan and Pakistan, was charged in federal court over violating a restriction on lobbying for a foreign country within a year of leaving office.
According to a criminal complaint, Olson, then still the ambassador in Islamabad, met in Los Angeles in 2015 with a Pakistani American who proposed working for a business associate from Bahrain.
The Pakistani American, who was not identified, quickly arranged a trip to London to discuss the cooperation, with Olson failing to disclose $19,000 provided him in first-class airfare, a luxury hotel stay and dinner, prosecutors said.

Richard Olson accused of receiving $20,000 monthly payments from a Pakistani American lobbyist

The businessperson proposed a one-year contract to Olson worth $300,000 after he ended his diplomatic career, the complaint said.
Olson initially was asked to help Qatar lobby for Washington to allow US customs preclearance at the Doha airport, a move that would ease lucrative connections to the United States.
The former ambassador was later asked to help Qatar during a boycott by Saudi Arabia and the UAE, which was lifted at the AlUla Summit in January 2021.
A Qatari government official in turn wired $5.8 million to the Pakistani American who had approached Olson, the complaint said.
The complaint quoted Olson acknowledging being aware of ethical restrictions, saying he could not directly approach the US ambassador in Qatar.
A court filing said that Olson pleaded guilty to the offenses, with the case sent from California to Washington.
His filing was dated April 7. It was first reported by the news site Axios.
Since retiring from the Foreign Service, Olson — known as Rick — has often served as a commentator on events in Pakistan and Afghanistan.

According to a media report, Richard Olson is also accused of accepting a lavish trip to Qatar while still serving as the US envoy to Pakistan. “I wish to plead guilty to the offences charged, to waive trial in the Central District of California, and to dispose of the case in the District of Columbia in which I am present,” he wrote in a consent letter submitted by his lawyer.

Barack Obama sent Olson to Pakistan in 2012 when ambassador Cameron Munter resigned after the 2011 US raid in Abbottabad

Mr Olson, who has also served as US special representative for Afghanistan and Pakistan, was charged in the federal court over violation of a restriction on lobbying for a foreign country while in service and within a year after retirement.

Mr Olson has been awarded the Presidential Distinguished Service Award and the Secretary of Defence Exceptional Civilian Service Award, and is a three times recipient of the State Department’s Superior Honor Award. He lived in Virginia after his retirement and was a regular on South Asian affairs at Washington’s think tanks where he often appreciated Pakistan’s efforts to contain terrorism.

Former US president Barack Obama sent Mr Olson, a career diplomat, to Pakistan in 2012 when the then ambassador, Cameron Munter, resigned after the 2011 US raid in Abbottabad. Mr Munter was apparently not consulted before the raid, which eliminated Osama bin Laden but strained relations with Pakistan as Islamabad too was informed after the raid. Mr Olson presented his credentials to the then president Asif Ali Zardari on Oct 31, 2012, and served in Pakistan till Oct 27, 2015.

Former US President Barack Obama and Richard Olson discussing future strategy while being appointed as ambassador to Pakistan in 2012.

The charges against Mr Olson include courting foreign work while in office and using his political influence to advance Qatari interests in Washington after his retirement.

The US Justice Department has also charged him with making false statements in ethics paperwork and violating laws restricting foreign lobbying by ex-federal officials, both misdemeanors.

According to a court document, quoted in US media reports, Mr Olson received $20,000 monthly payments from an unnamed Pakistani American lobbyist for the work.

The lobbyist also flew Mr Olson to London in early 2015, while he was serving as ambassador, to meet an unidentified Bahraini businessperson who offered him a $300,000-per-year contract at their company, the reports claim.

Prosecutors also claim that after leaving government service in late 2016, Mr Olson worked with his Pakistani American contact and high-level Qatari government officials to advance Doha’s interests in Washington, prosecutors allege.

Documents shared with the US media show that when Saudi Arabia, the UAE and other Gulf nations cut diplomatic ties with Qatar in 2017 and blockaded its only land border, citing financial support for terrorism, Mr Olson lobbied US government officials to take Qatar’s side in the dispute.

Prosecutors say he also provided behind-the-scenes support for a Qatari government lobbying campaign aimed at establishing US Customs and Border Protection pre-clearance facilities at Doha airport.