US ex-envoy to Pakistan pleads guilty on Qatar lobbying


WASHINGTON:

A former US ambassador has pleaded guilty to illegal lobbying for Qatar and accepting a lavish trip while serving as envoy to Pakistan, court documents showed.

Richard Olson, who has also served as ambassador to the United Arab Emirates and as special representative on Afghanistan and Pakistan, was charged in federal court over violating a restriction on lobbying for a foreign country within a year of leaving office.

According to a criminal complaint, Olson, then still the ambassador in Islamabad, met in Los Angeles in 2015 with a Pakistani American who proposed working for a business associate from Bahrain.

The Pakistani American, who was not identified, quickly arranged a trip to London to discuss the cooperation, with Olson failing to disclose $19,000 provided him in first-class airfare, a luxury hotel stay and dinner, prosecutors said.

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The businessperson proposed a one-year contract to Olson worth $300,000 after he ended his diplomatic career, the complaint said.

Olson initially was asked to help Qatar lobby for Washington to allow US customs preclearance at the Doha airport, a move that would ease lucrative connections to the United States.

The former ambassador was later asked to help Qatar as it faced a blockade by neighbours Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates.

A Qatari government official in turn wired $5.8 million to the Pakistani American who had approached Olson, the complaint said.

The complaint quoted Olson acknowledging being aware of ethical restrictions, saying he could not directly approach the US ambassador in Qatar.

A court filing said that Olson pleaded guilty to the offences, with the case sent from California to Washington.

His filing was dated April 7. It was first reported by the news site Axios.

Since retiring from the Foreign Service, Olson — known as Rick — has often served as a commentator on events in Pakistan and Afghanistan.

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