Syrian refugees allege they were threatened in run-up to court hearing
Qatar’s Doha Bank asked Britain’s High Court to dismiss some of the allegations against the state, including intimidation and attempted bribing of witnesses, in a terrorism financing case.
Four Syrian refugees have lodged a case for damages at the London court against Doha Bank and two wealthy brothers, Moutaz and Ramez Al Khayyat.
The brothers were described as two “prominent Syrian/Qatari businessmen” who allegedly used accounts at Doha Bank to channel funds to the Al Nusra Front, an Al Qaeda affiliate.
The Syrians said they suffered “severe physical and psychiatric injuries” at the hands of the terrorist group.
The claimants said Qatar threatened, tried to bribe and intimidated them in an effort to get them to drop their cases.
A hearing to decide whether the trial should be held in the UK, where some of the refugees now live, or in Qatar is set for October.
On Monday, Doha Bank’s legal team asked for the allegation of perverting the course of justice to be limited to a “snapshot” of alleged events which happened between October and November last year and unsuccessfully applied for the hearing to be held in private.
The bank is challenging the claimants’ request for permission to cross-examine the Al Khayyat brothers at the October hearing.
“What’s happened since is in short an abuse of process,” said Hannah Brown QC, for Doha Bank.
She said there was no evidence of intimidation of witnesses or of Qatar acting unlawfully on British soil.
Last November, the claimants contacted the UK’s SO15 counter-terrorism unit to make claims of threats, bribery and intimidation by the state of Qatar.
The court previously heard that people connected with the case were bugged in their cars, threatened in their homes and offered bribes to reveal the names of the claimants, who were granted anonymity by the court.
Eight refugees brought the case but last year four withdrew, claiming they were in “fear of their lives”.
Ben Emmerson QC, for the claimants, told the court on Monday the case involved senior Qatari officials.
“These are allegations of high-ranking officials in Qatar involved in a terrorism financing conspiracy using the first and second defendants [the Al Khayyat brothers] who used a variety of overpricing of contracts to siphon off funds through Doha Bank,” he said.
“They have denied any involvement in terrorism financing. The claimants will not receive justice in Qatar. If we can prove that the state of Qatar is sending emissaries, it will give you a strong indication that no justice will be received in Qatar.
“If Qatar is attempting to derail proceedings in England, how can a judge possibly conclude they will get justice in Qatar?
“Truthful allegations are being made and they are trying to hide them from public view to avoid public scrutiny.”
Mr Justice Chamberlain said he would consider their arguments and deliver his decision at a later date.
“It goes to the safety of Qatar for a trial of this kind to go ahead,” he said.
“There are two topics. Was Qatar funding terrorism … and have there been recent attempts by individuals associated with Qatar to intimidate witnesses or evidence that amounts to perverting the course of justice in relation to this case? The judge wanted the claimants to be able to put it in evidence and that is why she adjourned it last time.”
A spokesman for the Al Khayyat brothers told The National they deny the “bizarre and baseless allegations”.
“Any suggestion that they have any involvement with these appalling allegations is wholly false. These baseless and increasingly outlandish claims do not stand up to even the slightest scrutiny,” he said.
“They have no knowledge of what has apparently been alleged at these hearings. They have seen no credible evidence whatsoever in support of these claims. They were not represented at the hearing and have not been validly served with any court proceedings.
“Questions must now be asked as to who the claimants’ anonymous backers actually are. For such a campaign to seek to exploit the genuine suffering of Syrian refugees for financial or political gain is deplorable.
“They [the Al Khayyat brothers] remain unshakeable in their commitment to humanitarian causes across the Middle East and to playing their part in delivering social and economic development for all.”
By Nicky Harley, May 24, 2021, published on The National