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Investigative Bulletin

“Qatargate” Corruption Scandal Threatens Politicians, Universities, DC Swamp—Explosive Revelations Ahead?

A metastasizing corruption scandal in Europe—dubbed “Qatargate” by the local media—has engulfed politicians from Greece, Belgium, and Italy, and shows no sign of slowing down. At the center of the case: allegations that Qatar steered $4.3 million in bribes to European Union officials to favorably influence policy toward the wealthy Mideast nation.

But you don’t have to go to Europe to catch a glimpse of Qatargate. Here at Judicial Watch, we’ve been tracking allegations of Qatar corruption in the U.S. involving politicians, political operatives, and American universities. Qatari influence peddling in the U.S. is a multi-billion-dollar enterprise that includes ties to American education, business, lobbyists, and the military.

A small Persian Gulf monarchy sitting on vast oil and natural gas wealth, Qatar spreads money far and wide, often playing both sides of the geo-political aisle. It acts as a broker in negotiations between Israel and Hamas over the Gaza War, yet it is a major funder of the terror group. It has strong ties to Iran, yet it hosts the U.S.  Al Udeid Air Base, a major center for American military action in the region. It sponsors the Al Jazeera television network and created an entire “Education City” to host outposts of U.S. universities, yet Qatari media are filled with anti-Semitic propaganda and Qatar’s role in spreading anti-Israel messages likely influenced campus attacks on supporters of the Jewish State in the wake of October 7.

In the U.S, Senator Robert Menendez—until recently chairman of the powerful Senate Foreign Relations Committee—is the most prominent American in the Qatargate crosshairs. Menendez was indicted in September on charges of bribery, fraud, and corruption for allegedly participating in a “corrupt relationship…to use his power and influence” to benefit the government of Egypt. In January, the charges were amended to include Qatar.

According to the amended indictment the New Jersey Democrat accepted payments from a co-conspirator “to use his influence and power to breach his official duty…by performing acts to benefit the government of Qatar.” Among the payments linked to the Qatar connection: a gold bar worth $60,000, “thousands of dollars of cash,” four tickets to the 2023 Formula One Grand Prix, and other “things of value.”

Menendez stepped down from his role as Foreign Relations Committee chairman after the indictment but refused to resign as senator. He denies all the charges and is slated to go to trial May 6. On March 21, Menendez announced he would not seek re-election in November as a Democrat, but did not rule out running as an independent if he was cleared of corruption charges.

Judicial Watch also tracked Qatar’s relationship with a powerful Democratic Party duo: Bill and Hillary Clinton. According to a statement from a Clinton Foundation spokesman, Qatar has been sending the Clintons money “since 2002.” In 2008, with Mrs. Clinton about to take over leadership of the State Department under President Obama, the Clinton Foundation was pressured to publish a list of donors. Qatar was listed as contributing between $1 million and $5 million. A Judicial Watch Freedom of Information disclosure revealed that in 2009, a list sent by a Clinton Foundation senior adviser to a high-ranking aide to Secretary of State Clinton noted that foreign leaders to be invited to the Clinton Global Initiative’s annual meeting included the emir of Qatar, the Qatari prime minster, and the minister of foreign affairs. According to a leaked Wikileaks email, in 2011 the Clintons received a $1 million gift from Qatar. That gift was never reported by the Clintons, a violation of the disclosure agreement they signed with the State Department when Mrs. Clinton took the helm. Soon after the 2011 gift, a high-ranking Qatari official pressed the Clinton circle for “five minutes” with the former president.

According to the Justice Department’s Foreign Agent Registration Act (FARA) database, Qatar has spent $77 million on U.S. lobbyists since 2016. FARA requires that anyone lobbying for foreign governments or individuals register as a foreign agent and disclose their activities and pay. The FARA data base “shows some of Washington D.C.’s most powerful and influential law firms and public relations outfits have taken millions of dollars to promote Qatar’s interests,” noted the website Just the News.

Much of that activity is legal; some of it is not.

In 2021, for example, political operative Imaad Zuberi was sentenced to twelve years in prison for illegal lobbying, illicit campaign contributions, tax evasion and obstruction of justice. Zuberi was connected to the top levels of the Democrat and Republican parties. His foreign clients were many. Qatar paid him $9 million to lobby the Trump White House and Congress.

According to an Associated Press investigation, Zuberi funneled more than $1 million to U.S. political figures in an illegal straw donor scheme that opened doors for him at the top levels of the U.S. foreign policy establishment. Zuberi’s donations gave him “first-name access to top foreign and American diplomats as well as members of Congress who controlled foreign policy, such as Sens. Bob Casey and Lindsey Graham,” the AP noted.

In April 2022, in a deal with the Justice Department Richard Olson, a former U.S. ambassador to Pakistan and the United Arab Emirates, agreed to plead guilty to illegal lobbying on behalf of Qatar. Olson was paid $20,000 per month by Imaad Zuberi.

In June 2022, an FBI document surfaced linking a retired four-star Marine general, John Allen, to the Zuberi-Olson network. The document claimed Olson—who had recently taken over as president of the influential Brookings Institution public policy network—had sought a $20,000 payment from Qatar disguised as a “speaker’s fee,” accepted a first-class round-trip air fare trip to the nation, and pursued a multi-million-dollar business deal for a company on whose board he sat.

Allen denied wrongdoing but resigned the Brookings presidency soon after the 2022 revelations. In January 2023, the government dropped all charges against him. Brookings, by the way, is a major recipient of Qatari largesse, with an estimated $10 million to $20 million flowing to the organization over the past decade. Brookings says it no longer receives funding from Qatar.

But money spent on politicians, lobbyists, and public policy groups pales in comparison to what Qatar pays to gain influence at American universities. Qatar has given or contracted more than $5 billion to American universities since 2007, according to an investigation by the Washington Free Beacon. The money, the Beacon reports, “has enabled Qatar to have outsized influence in American politics and academia, efforts [that] have mainstreamed anti-Israel propaganda and silenced criticism about Doha’s longstanding ties to Hamas, the Iranian regime, and other terror groups.”

The list of American universities is long. It includes Harvard, Yale, MIT, Cornell, Texas A&M, Carnegie Mellon, Johns Hopkins, Georgetown, Northwestern, Virginia Commonwealth, and the University of Chicago. In 2019, Judicial Watch joined the Zachor Legal Institute in a long legal battle to discover the truth about Qatari funding at Texas A&M. How much money was flowing from Qatar to Texas? Were there any strings attached? Were there any anti-Israel or anti-Semitic undercurrents to the deal? How could state-funded A&M establish a campus in Qatar without the approval of the Texas state legislature?

Zachor filed requests under the Texas Public Information Act seeking documents related to Qatari money directed to the university and communications related to funding. That’s when it got interesting. Qatar itself intervened and hired the powerhouse Washington law firm Squire Patton Boggs to crush Zachor’s freedom of information act request.

Judicial Watch stepped in to defend Zachor, fought back in court, and after a five-year legal battle, won. Texas courts sided with Judicial Watch and Zachor. The truth—the documents detailing the Qatari connection—began to emerge. Records produced so far show that over $500 million was given to the state university from 2018 to 2023. In February, Texas A&M announced it was severing its relationship with Qatar.

The documents obtained by Zachor in the Texas A&M litigation may prove to be explosive—literally. According to Zachor, they suggest Qatar and Texas A&M may have been trafficking in sensitive nuclear technology.

In an op-ed for the Jerusalem Post, Zachor President Marc Greendorfer and COO Ron Machol write that contracts obtained in the litigation suggest “Texas A&M was handing over intellectual property to Qatar.” The contracts “allowed Qatar to obtain control of discoveries made at [Texas A&M’s] Doha campus…including those related to nuclear research.”

Greendorfer and Machol write that the contracts show “a comprehensive scheme whereby Texas A&M essentially sold Qatar cutting edge intellectual property focusing on engineering and science, including, we believe, access to Texas A&M’s renowned nuclear science program via intellectual property assignments.” A report by the Institute for the Study of Global Antisemitism supports the Zachor claim, noting fifty-eight Texas A&M research initiatives that “appear to be sensitive in terms of national security concerns.”

Greendorfer and Machol say that two key questions remain unanswered:

What nuclear and other sensitive military-grade intellectual property was made available to Qatar?

And what did other prestigious universities agree to in exchange for billions of dollars from Qatar?

Texas A&M has emphatically denied all suggestions of improper or illegal actions, but the Zachor allegations could take Qatargate to a whole new level. A small, rich country giving the appearance of spreading the wealth to politicians, lobbyists, and various power players to buy security is a standard form of international sleaze. There’s likely more to come from following the money trail on that score. But embarking on an apparent decades-long project to steal sensitive technology, including military and nuclear information, is an entirely different matter—especially when your friends include Hamas and Iran.

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Micah Morrison is chief investigative reporter for Judicial Watch. Tips: [email protected]

Investigative Bulletin is published by Judicial Watch. Reprints and media inquiries: [email protected]


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