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Former US envoy to Pakistan admits hiding travel gift from Pakistani American; pleads guilty to illegal lobbying charges

The Justice Department said Olson had received air travel to London, lodging there and expenses from the Pakistani American businessman, whose name was not disclosed in court papers but identified only as a “naturalised US citizen born in Pakistan”, who operated several businesses and lobbied, and was the go-between for another deal

Arul Louis Apr 29, 2022
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From left, former United States Ambassador to Pakistan Richard Olson, Secretary of State John Kerry and Joe Biden, who was then Vice President, at a meeting in Davos, Switzerland, with Pakistani and Afghani leaders in 2016. (File Photo: State Dept.) A copy of the document filed by former United States Ambassador to Islamabad, Richard Olson, admitting that he was guilty in a case brought by the Justice Department charging him with failing to properly disclose a travel gift from a Pakistani businessman. (Imag

Richard Olson, a former US ambassador to Pakistan, has admitted to illegal lobbying before a federal court and admitted in not properly disclosing a travel gift he had received from a Pakistani American businessman. A career diplomat, Olson was the US ambassador to Pakistan from 2012 to 2015 and the Special Representative for Afghanistan and Pakistan from 2015 to 2016.

In a document filed with the federal court in Los Angeles on April 7, he said, “I wish to plead guilty to offences charged” by the Justice Department that he did not disclose the gift received in the form of travel worth about $18,000 as required by law.

He was also charged with lobbying for Qatar in violation of rules against such activites within a year of leaving office.

The Department said in its court filing that Olson had also received a payment of at least $20,000 soon after his retirement from government in 2016 through a company he had set up.

In the US legal system, an accused person can plead guilty -- admit to the charges -- and be automatically convicted.

Usually, in exchange for a guilty plea, the prosecutors can reduce the charges or recommend that the judge give a lenient penalty as it will save them the trouble of going through a trial.

The Justice Department said Olson had received air travel to London, lodging there and expenses from the Pakistani American businessman, whose name was not disclosed in court papers but identified only as a “naturalised US citizen born in Pakistan”, who operated several businesses and lobbied, and was the go-between for another deal.

The Department said Olson aided Qatar to “influence decisions” of US officials, including those in the National Security Council, within a year of retiring as the special representative.

The Department’s court filings threw a spotlight on how legal political contributions work in the US.

It said that the Pakistani American was “retained by foreign governments and individuals” and "received funds from foreign clients, used those funds to make political campaign contributions to US politicians, parlayed those contributions into political influence in the US and lobbied US officials on behalf of his foreign clients”.

The department said in court filings that Olson up a company, Medicine Bear International Consulting, through which at least one payment of $20,000 was routed to him after the Pakistani American had “agreed to retain” his services for $20,000 per month plus expenses.

The London trip Olson took at the Pakistani American’s expense was to meet a Bahraini businessperson regarding a one-year contract worth $300,000, according to the Department.

Court papers did not identify the Bahraini businessperson or say if the contract was signed or what it would have entailed.

The Department said that the Pakistani American's company received $5.8 million from a Qatar official and it involved lobbying the US government to set up pre-clearance facility at the Doha airport for passengers travel to the US.

Olson, it said, advised the Pakistani American and another businessperson on how to "sell" idea to US officials.

Another former US ambassador, Robin Raphel, had also run into problems with the Justice Department but was ultimately not charged with any wrongdoing. The Federal Bureau of Investigation had raided her home in 2014 while investigating if she had provided secret information to the Pakistani government.

The State Department had put her on administrative leave and suspended her security clearance while the investigation was taking place. The Justice Department ultimately informed her that she was not suspected of espionage and closed the investigation in 2016.

(SAM)

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