The Qatari state has been accused of playing a central role in a secret money laundering operation to send hundreds of millions of dollars to jihadists in Syria.
A claim issued this week at the High Court in London alleges that a private office of the Gulf state’s monarch was at the heart of clandestine routes by which money was transferred to an al-Qaeda affiliate, the Nusra Front.
Two Qatari banks, several charities, wealthy businessmen, leading politicians and civil servants are among the defendants in a claim for damages lodged by nine Syrians.
The claimants allege that each played a part in an alleged conspiracy on behalf of the Qatari state, acting in co-ordination with the Muslim Brotherhood, the Sunni Islamist organization. Qatar is host next year’s football World Cup.
The conspiracy was driven “by high-ranking members of the Qatari ruling elite” and provided funds to “actively support and facilitate” al-Qaeda-affiliated terrorists in the Syrian civil war, the High Court claim alleges.
The jihadist Nusra Front received hundreds of millions of dollars from Qatari individuals and organizations acting “on behalf of the state of Qatar”, it alleges.
Among the named defendants accused of involvement are Hamad bin Jassim al-Thani, Qatar’s former prime minister, and Abdulhadi Mana al-Hajri, the owner of London’s Ritz hotel. Their representatives said the allegations were completely baseless. Categorical denials were issued by every Qatari defendant identified in the claim that was contacted by The Times.
It is alleged in the claim that money was laundered for terrorism via significantly overpriced construction contracts, the purchase of property at inflated prices and overpayments to Syrian migrant workers. The claim alleges the clandestine funding operation was carried out with the Muslim Brotherhood and included meetings in Turkey between prominent Qatari individuals and representatives of jihadist groups operating in Syria.
It is claimed that money was transferred from the bank accounts of Qatari companies and charities either to Syria directly or to Turkish banks, where the claimants say it was withdrawn and taken across the border into Syria.
The claim for damages was lodged in the High Court on Wednesday by lawyers representing nine Syrians who allege they suffered severe financial losses or torture, arbitrary detention, threats of execution and other forms of persecution committed by Nusra Front.
Among them is a businessman from a prominent Christian family in Syria who was awarded a major hospital construction contract by a Qatari charity. He claims he lost millions of pounds when he refused to participate in the conspiracy.
Ben Emmerson QC, of the law firm King & Spalding, is leading the legal team that represents the claimants.
Central to the operation, it is alleged, was the private engineering office of the Amiri Diwan, a Qatari government agency that controls all major construction and development contracts. It receives its directives from Qatar’s emir, Tamim bin Hamad al-Thani. Other defendants alleged to have been involved include:
- Hamad bin Jassim al-Thani, Qatar’s prime minister from 2007 to 2013. His personal wealth is an estimated £2 billion, according to last year’s Sunday Times Rich List.
- Nawaf bin Jassim al-Thani, Hamad’s younger brother, who until March this year chaired a division of Qatar’s sovereign wealth fund that owns a global portfolio of luxury hotels.
- Jassim and Hamad bin Jassim Charitable Foundation, a wealthy charity founded in 2001 and controlled by the bin Jassim al-Thani brothers.
- Abdulhadi Mana al-Hajri, owner of the Ritz hotel in London and brother-in-law of Qatar’s emir.
- Qatar National Bank (QNB), the largest financial institution in the Middle East, which is also the official Qatari bank of the World Cup. It has a UK branch in Mayfair.
By Andrew Norfolk, June 4, 2021, published on The Times