Will Nikki Haley block diplomatic immunity to Qatar hacking ringleader?

Dalia Aqidi
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Before she officially resigns from her post as US ambassador to the UN the end of 2018, Nikki Haley will decide on whether she will block diplomatic immunity for an alleged “paid agent of Qatar” who hacked and shared the private communications of a US citizen.

Earlier, Haley announced that she would be resigning from her post at the end of the year.


The Jerusalem Post said “Before she heads into the next stage of her career, Haley will have one more chance to intervene on behalf of the pro-Israel community: blocking diplomatic immunity for a paid agent of Qatar (one of Iran’s closest allies) which hacked and disseminated the private communications of an American citizen.”

The legal team of Elliot Broidy, a former vice chair of the Republican National Committee, has accused longtime UN official and Moroccan national Jamal Benomar of serving as the ringleader in the Qatari hacks of more than 1,200 individuals, including Broidy himself.

Benomar is seeking to dismiss the lawsuit on the grounds that he has diplomatic immunity.

The alleged ringleader claims in a court filing that he “is a member of the Permanent Mission of the Kingdom Morocco to the UN” and therefore enjoys diplomatic immunity. The filing acknowledges Ben Omar’s contacts with Qatari officials and US-based Qatari agents.

Moroccan-born Ben Omar, who had a 25-year U.N. career and last served as special adviser to U.N. Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon for conflict prevention, had been sued by Broidy for, allegedly, orchestrating his dissemination stolen emails and documents to the media in to damage Broidy’s reputation.

The Jerusalem Post said “Given her post at the United Nations, it falls to her to decide whether to accord Benomar diplomatic immunity. The US Mission at the United Nations, overseen by Haley, has ultimate discretion over who receives accreditation from the UN as a diplomat. Her choice will determine whether Qatar, a leading partner of Iran and enemy of Israel, faces consequences for its assault on the private data of American citizens, or whether it can continue to prey on Americans with impunity.”

Ben Omar’s attorney, Abbe Lowell of Winston and Strawn LLP, wrote in a pre-motion letter to a US district court that Ben Omar’s alleged diplomatic status made him “immune from jurisdiction for actions performed in the course of his duties.” Ben Omar had never previously claimed Moroccan diplomatic status.

Lowell argued that because the ex-diplomat “Ben Omar enjoyed derivative sovereign immunity not only based on Qatar’s immunity as a sovereign, but on Morocco’s immunity as a sovereign as well. Consequently, this Court lacked subject matter jurisdiction, and the case must be dismissed, because the alleged actions of Ben Omar are protected under derivative sovereign immunity.”

Spanning from 2014-2018, the hack’s alleged targets include Broidy, an ex-CIA official, a Democratic Party operative, and “range from Syrian human rights activists to Egyptian soccer players,” Bloomberg recently reported. According to the report, the hackers’ IP addresses “linked back to the internet service provider, Ooredoo, which is majority-owned by Qatari government agencies.”

Broidy’s attorney, Lee Wolosky, filed a letter with the court outlining what he described as “fatal flaws” with Ben Omar’s argument. “To date, the U.S. government has not agreed to extend diplomatic immunity to him,” adding “according to the U.N., the Moroccan Mission to the retained Defendant as a consultant or advisor on August 1, 2018 – after the July 23, 2018 filing of this lawsuit.”

Wolosky further alleged that “Ben Omar’s participation in the conspiracy to hack and distribute Broidy’s electronic information was disclosed through discovery.” That discovery produced communications by Ben Omar’s co-conspirators, one of whom stated he was sure that the defendant ‘took the credit’ for personally reviewing the hacked materials before they were distributed to the press.”

The letter also disclosed that Ben Omar “profited personally from the scheme,” pointing out that he was recently appointed to the Lagardère Supervisory Board, a multinational media conglomerate headquartered in Paris in which the largest shareholder is Qatar Holding LLC, a part of Qatar’s sovereign wealth fund.

Wolosky wrote in his letter, “In a deposition, one of Defendant’s co-conspirators testified that their work was done for “money” and that he was considering suing Ben Omar because the co-conspirator was owed ‘five to ten million.’”

Ben Omar was best known for his tenure as the U.N.’s special envoy in Yemen, where he was responsible for attempting to mediate that country’s civil war between Iranian-armed Houthi rebels and the government.

The Arab coalition accused Ben Omar of being fixated on Hadi-Houthi peace talks and on his own legacy, instead of emphasizing the continued Houthi aggression. Ben Omar’s time as envoy was also marked by indications of his pro-Qatar bias, Broidy’s lawsuit noted.

“We are looking into what privileges and immunities apply,” a spokesperson for the Unite States Mission to the UN replied to Al Arabiya English’s inquiry, adding that it is the only answer the mission has at this time.

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