WASHINGTON: Muna Habib could not have known anything about his deals and stocks and was not involved in “any conceivable way”, former US ambassador to Pakistan Richard Olson writes in a letter which is included in the documents submitted to the trial court.
The letter, which is part of the documents submitted to a US court in the District of Columbia — DDC 2003, Criminal No. 2022-0144 — said Ms Habib “could not know anything about deals or stock” that he conducted and that she knew she was “innocent and there [was] no conceivable way that [she] could have known anything about anything”.
The Washington Post report, which triggered the controversy, recalls how Ambassador Olson conducted his personal and diplomatic business during and after his service. But somehow, it started Muna Habib’s media trial, at least in Pakistan.
In a phone interview with the publication, Ms Habib dismissed questions about her relationship with Olson as “salacious gossip”, adding: “I’m sick and tired of it.”
Olson says Muna Habib didn’t know anything about his ‘deals and stocks’
In court filings, Olson’s attorneys said the former ambassador “merely made an introduction (to someone he knew), a very common practice for a diplomat” and that there was nothing improper about the tuition payment because he was not dating Ms Habib at that point“.
Pakistani journalists in Washington often met Ms Habib, now demonised in the press as the girlfriend of a former US ambassador, at media engagements.
She was then working for a Pakistani newspaper. Later, they learned from her that she had also worked for BBC in Islamabad.
Later, at a briefing at the-then ambassador Asad Majeed Khan’s official residence, they learned that she was married to Mr Olson, when he came to pick her up.
For many Pakistani journalists it was a shock to read The Washington Post article on Saturday, which detailed her relationship with the former ambassador.
The Post claimed Olson had illicit relationships with multiple Pakistani women, including Muna Habib, during his stint as a diplomat in Islamabad between 2012 and 2015.
In the article titled Diamonds, girlfriends, illicit lobbying: The fall of a former ambassador, the newspaper reported that Olson arranged thousands of dollars to help Muna Habib attend Columbia University Graduate School of Journalism. He introduced Ms Habib to Imaad Zuberi, a Pakistani-American businessman, who offered to pay $25,000 to meet her tuition expenses.
The article noted that after a distinguished 34-year career with the State Department, Olson retired in 2016, garnering commendation for his extensive diplomatic service, which encompassed significant roles in Pakistan and the UAE, as well as risky assignments in Iraq and Afghanistan.
“Previously undisclosed records filed in court reveal that Mr Olson was investigated for failing to report a $60,000 gift of diamond jewellery to the mother (of his former wife, Deborah Jones) from the emir of Dubai.”
“The FBI also questioned him about his extra-marital affair with a journalist working in Pakistan while he was serving as the US ambassador in Islamabad,” the Post reported.
The FBI learned that Olson had arranged for Zuberi — who is now serving a 12-year federal prison sentence for illegal campaign donations and tax crimes — to pay $25,000 in tuition bills that enabled Ms Habib to move to New York and attend the Columbia University Graduate School of Journalism.
Mr Olson told FBI that he had confided in the CIA’s Islamabad station chief about his dating habits, but court records indicate that he did not report his liaisons to US diplomatic security officials, as required.
Mr Olson, 63, is scheduled to be sentenced in US District Court in Washington on Tuesday after pleading guilty last year to two misdemeanours.
On the first charge, Olson admitted that when he was the ambassador to Pakistan, he failed to disclose that he received a $18,000 first-class ticket to London for a job interview with a Gulf investment firm. On the second charge, he acknowledged that he illicitly lobbied US officials on behalf of the government of Qatar in 2017, violating a law that prohibited him from doing so for a year after his retirement.
However, Mr Olson was not charged with wrongdoing related to the diamonds or his girlfriend’s tuition, but the US Justice Department said that the episodes show a pattern of unethical behaviour.
Published in Dawn, September 11th, 2023