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Ex-US envoy to Pakistan pleads guilty to undisclosed Qatar lobbying

He met Pakistani American who proposed working for a business associate from Bahrain

WASHINGTON: Richard Olson, a retired diplomat who recently served as ambassador to Pakistan and the United Arab Emirates, has pleaded guilty to undisclosed lobbying for Qatar and failure to disclose gifts he received still in service, court records show.

He is accused of accepting a lavish trip to Qatar while still serving as the US envoy to Pakistan. “I wish to plead guilty to the offences charged, to waive trial in the Central District of California, and to dispose of the case in the District of Columbia in which I am present,” he wrote in a consent letter submitted by his lawyer.

Olson was U.S. special representative for Afghanistan and Pakistan from 2015 until 2016, when he retired. In that role, he reported directly to Secretary of State John Kerry. From 2012 to 2015, he was the ambassador to Pakistan. His first tour as an ambassador was in the United Arab Emirates, from 2008 to 2011.

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.

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.

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.

Mr Olson has been awarded the Presidential Distinguished Service Award and the Secretary of Defence Exceptional Civilian Service Award, and is a three times recipient of the State Department’s Superior Honor Award. He lived in Virginia after his retirement and was a regular on South Asian affairs at Washington’s think tanks where he often appreciated Pakistan’s efforts to contain terrorism.

Former US president Barack Obama sent Mr Olson to Pakistan in 2012 when the then ambassador, Cameron Munter, resigned after the 2011 US raid in Abbottabad. Mr Munter was apparently not consulted before the raid, which eliminated Osama bin Laden but strained relations with Pakistan.

Olson was also posted in Mexico, Uganda, Tunisia, Saudi Arabia, Ethiopia and Iraq. When Mr. Olson retired in November 2016, Kerry said in a statement, “Rick is quite simply one of our most distinguished diplomats, a career member of the Senior Foreign Service who has been on the forefront of our work in the Middle East, Africa and most recently in Afghanistan and Pakistan.”

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