Dubai: One of the most powerful leaders in the United Arab Emirates (UAE) has found himself entangled in special counsel Robert Mueller’s report on US President Donald Trump and Russian interference in America’s 2016 election.
Abu Dhabi Crown Prince Sheikh Mohammed bin Zayed Al Nahyan, believed to be the Emirates’ day-to-day ruler, is the only world leader included in Mueller’s cast-of-characters index near the end of the 448-page report. His inclusion, stemming from his mysterious role in a 2017 meeting between a Trump associate and a Russian middleman for Vladimir Putin in the Seychelles, stands out from otherwise glancing references to the wider Middle East.
The report’s release comes as the UAE backs Trump’s maximalist policies against Iran and as Emirati officials have been on a blitz of meetings with American officials, showing the importance they still place on their relationship with him even as faces opposition.
“The Emiratis saw an opportunity for a do-over with the Americans with a new, incoming administration with a President they personally knew,” said Ryan Bohl, an analyst with the Austin, Texas-based private intelligence firm ‘Stratfor’. “They didn’t take into account that other institutions, like the military, the State Department, Congress, would all have an opinion too.”
Emirati government officials did not respond to requests for comment from this agency about Sheikh Mohammed’s inclusion. However, it comes the same week that Sheikh Mohammed, 58, found himself included in ‘Time Magazine’s 100 Most Influential People’ list.
Sheikh Mohammed’s 71-year-old half-brother, Sheikh Khalifa bin Zayed Al Nahyan, remains the Emirates’ President and ruler of oil-rich Abu Dhabi but has been rarely seen since suffering a stroke in 2014. Sheikh Mohammed also maintains a tight relationship with neighbouring Saudi Arabia’s own upstart crown prince, Mohammed bin Salman.
In a country where leaders rule absolutely, the Mueller report provides a brief glimpse into the deal-making and connections of the UAE. It puts Sheikh Mohammed at a luxury hotel in Seychelles islands in January 2017, just before Trump’s inauguration, with his adviser George Nader. Nader is a Lebanese-American businessman convicted in a Czech Republic court in 2003 of multiple counts of sexually abusing minors, later would cooperate with Mueller’s investigation.
This meeting put Kirill Dmitriev, the head of a Russian sovereign wealth fund close to Putin, face to face with Erik Prince, the founder of the private military firm ‘Blackwater’ who had ties to Trump officials, according to the report. Dmitriev earlier had asked Nader for access to Trump transition team members, the report said. While initially distrustful of meeting the Prince, Nader reportedly made a point to stress that Prince’s sister, Betsy DeVos, would become Trump’s education secretary.
“Dmitriev told Nader that Putin would be very grateful to Nader and that a meeting would make history,” the report states.
It’s unclear what implications Prince could face over the Mueller report. A request for comment to Prince’s new firm, ‘Frontier Services Group’, was not immediately answered.