Ex-UN envoy, ringleader of Qatar hacking in US, using Morocco card to save himself?
An alleged ringleader of a Qatari-backed hacking operation that targeted prominent Republican fundraiser Elliott Broidy is seeking to dismiss a lawsuit on the grounds that he has diplomatic immunity.
The alleged ringleader, former United Nations official Jamal Benomar, claims in a court filing that he “is a member of the Permanent Mission of the Kingdom of Morocco to the United Nations” and therefore enjoys diplomatic immunity.
The filing acknowledges Benomar’s contacts with Qatari officials and US-based Qatari agents but claims he “counseled Qatar at the request of his home government of Morocco,” the filing says.
Moroccan-born Benomar, who had a 25-year UN career and last served as special adviser to UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon for conflict prevention, has been sued by former Republican National Committee finance chairman Elliott Broidy for, allegedly, orchestrating the dissemination of Broidy’s stolen emails and other documents to the media in order to damage Broidy’s reputation.
Benomar’s attorney, Abbe Lowell of Winston and Strawn LLP, wrote in a pre-motion letter to a US district court that Benomar’s alleged diplomatic status makes him “immune from jurisdiction for actions performed in the course of his duties.” Benomar has never previously claimed Moroccan diplomatic status.
Lowell argued that because the ex-diplomat “specifically counseled Qatar at the request of his home government of Morocco, Mr. Benomar enjoys 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 lacks subject matter jurisdiction, and the case must be dismissed, because the alleged actions of Mr. Benomar are protected under derivative sovereign immunity.”
Lowell’s letter appears to try to protect his client, in a hacking campaign that targeted more than a thousand people in several countries. 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 Benomar’s argument.
“To date, the US government has not agreed to extend diplomatic immunity to [Benomar],” adding “according to the United Nations, the Moroccan Mission to the UN retained Defendant as a consultant or advisor on August 1, 2018 – after the July 23, 2018 filing of this lawsuit.”
Wolosky further alleges that “Benomar’s participation in the conspiracy to hack and distribute [Broidy’s] electronic information was disclosed through discovery.” That discovery produced communications by Benomar’s “co-conspirators, one of whom stated he was ‘sure’ Defendant ‘took the credit’ for personally reviewing the hacked materials before they were distributed to the press.”
The letter also discloses that Benomar “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 writes 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 the Defendant because the co-conspirator was owed ‘five to ten million.’”
A source close to Broidy said: “Elliott was surprised and disappointed that the Kingdom of Morocco chose to become involved in this matter, considering the country’s close relationship with the United States. Morocco is playing a dangerous game by attempting to aid Qatar’s effort to shield Benomar from culpability for hacking American citizens on US soil.”
“There is no legal precedent to support the notion that Benomar, who no longer holds an active diplomatic position for any country, deserves diplomatic immunity,” the source added.
Benomar is best known for his tenure as the UN’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 Saudi-led coalition of Gulf states – excluding Qatar – accused Benomar of being fixated on Hadi-Houthi peace talks and on his own legacy, instead of emphasizing continued Houthi aggression. Benomar’s time as envoy was also marked by indications of his pro-Qatar bias, Broidy’s lawsuit notes.