RICHARD Olson
RICHARD Olson

WASHINGTON: Richard Olson, a former US ambassador to Pakistan and the United Arab Emirates, has pleaded guilty to undisclosed lobbying for Qatar while still in service and soon after his retirement, court records show.

He 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.

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.

US ex-envoy accused of receiving $20,000 monthly payments from a Pakistani American lobbyist

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.

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.

Published in Dawn, April 29th, 2022

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