WASHINGTON: Richard G. Olson, a former US ambassador to Pakistan, was sentenced on Friday to three years of probation and a $93,350 fine for violating federal laws while lobbying for Qatar.
Mr Olson, however, was not charged with wrongdoing for accepting jewellery from the emir of Dubai and for arranging tuition for a former girlfriend, who is now his wife.
In his 34-year career, Mr Olson served at several key positions, including as the US ambassador to Pakistan and the United Arab Emirates, and as the US Special Representative for Afghanistan and Pakistan. He retired in 2016.
US Magistrate Judge G. Michael Harvey of District of Columbia convicted Mr Olson for violating federal lobbying and ethics laws that require a government servant not to work for a foreign client for at least one year after retirement.
Fine of $93,350 imposed on former US ambassador for violating federal laws, gets three-year probation
Last year, Olson pleaded guilty to illegally advising Qatar while working for Imaad Zuberi, a political donor who is serving a 12-year prison sentence for tax evasion, campaign finance violations and failing to register as a foreign agent.
The prosecution charged Mr Olson with two federal misdemeanors, which could have led to six months of imprisonment under federal sentencing guidelines.
However, Judge Harvey said he didn’t think a prison sentence was warranted but imposed a hefty fine. Federal guidelines for such cases suggest a financial penalty of $20,000 or less. But the court fined $93,350, almost five times more than what’s suggested.
“I’m not exonerating you, not in the least,” the judge told Mr Olson. “In the eyes of the American public, I think you lost some of your integrity here and it will be difficult to get it back,” The Washington Post reported.
Mr Olson admitted that when he was ambassador to Pakistan in 2015, he received an $18,000 first-class ticket to fly to London for a job interview with a Gulf investment firm. He also acknowledged that he illicitly helped to lobby US officials on behalf of the government of Qatar in 2017, violating federal prohibitions.
According to the US media reports, Mr Olson’s then mother-in-law received a $60,000 gift of jewellery from the emir of Dubai in 2003, but he did not report this to his department. At the time, he was the US Consul General in Dubai, and his mother-in-law lived with him.
Mr Olson also admitted to FBI agents that, while he was still the US ambassador in Islamabad, he arranged for Mr Zuberi to pay $25,000 so a former girlfriend could move to New York and attend the Columbia University Graduate School of Journalism.
Mr Zuberi, who bought Olson a first-class plane ticket to London, also hired him as a consultant immediately after his retirement from the State Department, paying him $20,000 per month, US media reports claimed.
While Mr Olson was not charged with wrongdoing in connection with the jewellery or tuition, federal prosecutors accused him of demonstrating a pattern of unethical behaviour and argued that he should spend at least some time in prison.
A US Justice Department attorney, Evan Turgeon, told the judge that Mr Olson had refused to accept full responsibility for his wrongdoing, and imprisonment was needed to send a message of deterrence to other high-ranking public officials. “If people are allowed to act like the rules don’t apply to them, they will,” Mr Turgeon said.
In brief remarks before the judge’s ruling, a tearful Mr Olson said he regretted his mistakes. “I did step over the line,” he said. “It was a mistake. It was not intentional.”
He said he remained proud of his 34 years of service in the State Department, which also included high-profile jobs in Iraq and Afghanistan. “I never shied away from the hardest assignments, the most difficult ones,” he said.
Olson declined to comment to reporters after the hearing, saying: “I’ve got nothing for you.”
He was joined in court by his wife, Muna Habib, a British citizen who met him in Pakistan while reporting there as a journalist. They resumed their relationship after she graduated from Columbia, married in 2019, and now live in New Mexico.
The US media noted that earlier this year, prosecutors dropped a related investigation into retired four-star Gen John Allen’s role in a behind-the-scenes effort to help Qatar shape US policy in 2017. He worked with Mr Zuberi and Mr Olson.
Published in Dawn, September 17th, 2023