by Lakshman I. Keerthisinghe-2017-08-19
The great constitutional corrective in the hands of the people against usurpation of power, or corruption by their agents is the right of suffrage; and this when used with calmness and deliberation will prove strong enough.
-Andrew Jackson (American President)
Black’s Law Dictionary defines ‘Bribery’ as “the offering, giving, receiving or soliciting of any item of value to influence the actions of an official or other person in charge of a public or legal duty”. The UN Declaration against Corruption and Bribery in International Commercial Transactions defines ‘Corruption’ as “any offer, promise or giving of any advantage to another person as undue consideration for performing or refraining from the performance of that person’s duty, or the soliciting or accepting of any advantage as undue consideration for performing or refraining from the performance of one’s duty.”
Corruption has been considered as an extension of bribery. Prof.A.D.V.de S. Indraratne a former President of the Sri Lanka Economists’ Association (SLEA) speaking of Public Sector Corruption in Sri Lanka at the SLEA annual sessions in 2007 said, “Public officials and politicians fight shy of even mentioning it as a cause of our poverty, and even among us economists, only a very few has shown interest in the study of the nexus between corruption and inequity and poverty.” Thus, eradication of bribery and corruption from society coupled with economic development would definitely pave the way to a prosperous Sri Lankan nation free of poverty and its attendant ill effects on society. At the outset it must be emphatically stated that without the requisite political will and resolve, bribery and corruption could never be eradicated from society.
The White Paper (August 2007) prepared for USAID-SRI LANKA titled ‘Bribery and Corruption in Sri Lanka : Strengthening the Institutional Framework’ states, “It is widely acknowledged that bribery and corruption are rampant in Sri Lankan society. The Parliamentary Committee on Public Accounts recently estimated that corruption in the public sector is costing the country approximately Rs100 billion every year. Yet the institutional mechanisms for dealing with bribery and corruption have failed to have any significant impact on reducing either practice. Some low level officials have been prosecuted over the years but very few of the ‘big fish’ have been brought to task.”
The Commission to Investigate Allegations of Bribery or Corruption (CIABOC) was established by Act No. 19 of 1994 to provide the establishment of a permanent Commission to Investigate Allegations of Bribery or Corruption and to direct the institution of prosecutions for offences under the Bribery Act and the Declaration of Assets and Liabilities Law No. 1 of 1975.The first Commission commenced its activities from 15 December 1994.The Commission consists of three members, two of whom shall be retired Judges of the Supreme Court or of the Court of Appeal and one of whom shall be a person with wide experience relating to the investigation of crime and law enforcement.
The Commission which is active at the present time, has the power to summon persons to give evidence or produce relevant documents, to require a bank, Commissioner General of Inland Revenue, other government department, local authority or State corporation to produce documents relevant to its investigations to require any person accused of bribery and corruption to furnish an affidavit declaring his assets and liabilities and that of other members of the immediate family and require any person to make sworn statements regarding such person’s assets and liabilities.
Section 7 of the Bribery Act as amended defines corruption as including all mala fide activities including nepotism, misconduct,misuse of information, induced omissions or commissions contrary to law. Gratification is defined in Section 90 as including anything of monetary value or convertible to monetary value, any office or contract, or any other form of protection. The Director General of the Commission is appointed by the President and answerable to him.
Declaration of assets
The other statutes used to combat bribery and corruption include the Declaration of Assets and Liabilities Acts No.1 of 1975, No 29 of 1985 and amending Act No.74 of 1988 which monitor the acquisition of wealth by public officers and politicians, Prevention of Money Laundering Act No.5 of 2006 and the Financial Transactions Reporting Act No.6 of 2006.The office of the Ombudsman and the Constitutional Council established by the 17th Amendment to the Constitution which was mandated to recommend the members to be appointed to the Elections Commission, Public Service Commission, National Police Commission, Human Rights Commission Bribery Commission, Finance Commission and Delimitation Commission tends to depoliticize such appointments which is beneficial to the elimination or reduction of bribery and corruption. The 19th Amendment restored many components of the 17th Amendment letting the Constitutional Council to set up the proposed Independent Commissions.
Sri Lanka is rated as one of the most corrupt nations in the world in spite of the many statutes promulgated to eliminate such corruption. In 2004 the VAT (Value Added Tax) scam uncovered by the Auditor General’s Department resulted in the loss of Rs 441 billion to the Inland Revenue Department. Fraudsters obtained vat refunds by producing falsified documents with the assistance of corrupt public officials some of whom are imprisoned. By the registration of cars as trucks with the assistance of corrupt officials the Motor Traffic Department incurred heavy losses as indicated in its 2006 report. The Report of the Committee on Public Enterprises (COPE) exposed many other corrupt practices that have taken place in public enterprises, resulting in heavy losses in revenue.
The failure to take action by the Monetary Board of the Central Bank of Sri Lanka (CBSL) against many bogus finance companies affected the economic stability of the country. The COPE found fault with the Board of Investment, Aviation Services Ltd., Sri Lanka Ports Authority, Samurdhi Authority, Ceylon Electricity Board and the Bank of Ceylon among other enterprises for engaging in corrupt practices and / or mismanagement.
Sri Lanka’s corruption index (Transparency International) in relation to other countries in 2016 has risen to be ranked at 95 when compared with 2014 at 85 and 2015 at 83 in spite of the establishment of the Yahapalanaya or good governance regime. It is obvious that by the end of 2017 this rank would invariably be raised further. ‘The Indian Express’ reported on 9 December 2016 that President Maithripala Sirisena had stated, “Half of Sri Lanka’s public procurement contracts are tainted by bribery and corruption,” nearly two years after he came to power promising to tackle government graft. “I regret to say that organized bribery and corruption are still taking place in government institutions,” the President told a public meeting of Police and anti-corruption activists in Colombo. “We say call tenders to prevent corruption, but in reality we know that the tender procedures are also corrupt. It happens in over 50 per cent of the time.” In recent months the President has made several outspoken criticisms of the National Unity Government under Prime Minister Ranil Wickremesinghe, accusing top anti-corruption officials of launching politically motivated prosecutions. The recent resignation of Ravi Karunanayake, former Minister of Finance and later Minister of Foreign Affairs, appeared to be part of the growing crisis over the Central Bank Bond scam presently being investigated into by a Presidential Commission presided over by a panel which includes two very eminent Supreme Court Judges. It is very unfortunate that the genuine efforts of eminent prosecutors in the Attorney General’s Department have come under unfair criticism by some affected persons.
In conclusion as Lord Alfred Milner (1854-1929) stated “If we believe a thing to be bad, and if we have a right to prevent it, it is our duty to try to prevent it and to damn the consequences” which should be noted by our leaders tasked with the governance of the country. A former President of India Abdul Kalam has stated, “If a country is to be corruption free and become a nation of beautiful minds, I strongly feel there are three key societal members who can make a difference. They are the father, the mother and the teacher.’
The writer is an Attorney-at-Law with LLB, LLM, MPhil (Colombo)
How did some nations, like a Japan, China, United Stated, become wealthy and powerful, while others remain stuck in poverty? And why do some of those powers, from ancient Rome to the modern Soviet Union, prosper for periods and then collapse? Politics makes the difference, say economists Daron Acemoglu of MIT and James Robinson of Harvard University in their new book, Why Nations Fail. Countries that have what they call “inclusive” political governments — those extending political and property rights as broadly as possible, while enforcing laws and providing some public infrastructure — experience the greatest growth over the long run. By contrast, Acemoglu and Robinson assert, countries with “extractive” political systems — in which power is wielded by a small elite and family — either fail to grow broadly or wither away after short bursts of economic expansion. Sri Lanka is tragic a case in point.
Many, many years ago, as primary students, we were taught that geography matters more than politics. Later, they argued the political system is the key component. Some countries at that time demonstrated that good geography could trump bad politics and the best politics required a top effort to offset bad geography. At the same time they argued that rich countries were in the north of the globe, and most poor countries were in the south, but, Australia and New Zealand are part of the Southern hemisphere, and both are doing fine. You couldn’t say this of Papua New Guinea, which is the Asian country closest to Australia and New Zealand. Later on, when we joined higher education, we were taught that it was not geography alone that causes wealth or poverty. A superficial view is to blame racial differences. Black Africa is the poorest and most disordered part of the world, and Haiti, with an almost entirely black population, is the poorest country of the Americas; but the coincidence is accidental. What makes some countries rich and others prone to poverty is not related to skin colour or racial factors. Many immigrants from poor nations do very well in the US and Canada, though one has to admit that both countries make immigration easy only for the best and the brightest of those who hail from Third World countries. It is also not the presence or lack of natural resources that makes a country rich or poor in the long run. Japan is a country with very limited natural resources, but has been the richest country in Asia for a long time.
On the other hand, it is easy to predict that some Third World countries that currently are rich because of immense reserves of natural wealth while not being burdened with large populations will slide back when the natural resources are depleted. While a handful of countries thanks to great leadership managed to achieve economic prosperity that has helped them to escape the perils of poverty, while many other countries fail in this respect and continue to be trapped in poverty. Was it chance? Their people? Their products and services? Their markets? The growth experiences of countries from north to south as we all know is filled with success and a great deal of disasters, which has had huge implications for the living standards of ordinary people. Then countries with “extractive” political systems — in which power is wielded by a small elite — either fail to grow broadly or wither away after short bursts of economic expansion.
Drivers of prosperity
Economics has sometimes a narrow scope. It studies a nation’s prosperity through trade flows, monetary, fiscal, and budget policies. The analysis of companies is a bit broader. It encompasses strategy, structure, and finance but also less “rational” fields such as human resources, corporate culture or consumer behaviours. Competitiveness provides a broader basis for analysis. It looks at all the elements that can explain the success of a nation. Industries often thrive when they are forced to overcome high labour costs or lack natural resources. When their customers won’t accept inferior, outdated products, when their local competitors are “murderous”, and when government offers no protection from their competition and sets tough technical and regularity standards. For instance, the Italian shoe industry is prodded by sophisticated consumer demand that encourage entry by many new firms. Many of them, family-owned, compete very jealously. The shoemakers are compelled to spew out new models continuously and must keep improving to increase efficiency to stay competitive within Italy’s quirky, high cost infrastructure. When the home market got saturated, Italian manufacturers went overseas and achieved international success. According to Professor Porter, competitive advantage based on only one or two factors is unsustainable. South Korea’s construction industry grew rapidly during the mid ‘80s simply by applying low cost labour to projects that did not require sophisticated engineering. It lost out when other countries that had cheap labour jumped in. Resources based advantages too frequently suffer the same fate. Two additional variables, “chance” and “government” have a big impact. Chance is outside the control of industries; wars and embargoes can reshape industry structure in a country for or against it. A government can improve or retard competitive advantage. Vigorous enforcement of antitrust laws encourages competition and stimulates innovation. For an industry to flourish, domestic rivalry is nearly always necessary. It drives companies to move beyond whatever initial advantage that led to the founding of the industry and to develop their international potential.
To maintain competitive advantage, the industry must normally broaden and upgrade from their original sources of success and take it to the next level. In the early stage of economic growth many believe that a country needs a strong government that can mobilise and direct resources that are important. Therefore, the success of poor countries according to them hinges critically on the quality of government leadership, i.e. its development-oriented leadership, its ability to promote good talent to head critical institutions and its approach for policy formulation with industry. China is a case in point. On the other hand India, even though it is poor in resources, is super rich in human talent and in technology. Knowledge is perhaps the most critical competitiveness factor. As countries move up, it is only knowledge that will ensure their prosperity and help them to compete in world markets. How that knowledge is acquired and managed is each nation’s responsibility and will determine a nation’s future prosperity.
(The writer is a thought leader)
Every possibility of Karunanayake reappointed as Minister in the near future
How long-one who has resigned-has to wait to be reappointed, unchallenged?
Marapana, Wijeyadasa and Ravi K
Karunanayake’s resignation on the other hand has brought about a fresh wave of pressure on Justice Minister Wijeyadasa Rajapakshe over his alleged suppression of legal actions against the leaders of the former regime, especially the Mahinda Rajapaksa family. It is a fresh wave of pressure as he was subject to the same pressure by the same elements in his Government over the same allegation in 2015 as well.
Wijeyadasa Rajapakshe’s adversaries seem to be on a strong footing. They are of the view that the investigations and the legal actions against the crimes, frauds and corruption committed by the leaders, members and the officials of the previous Government were moving at a snail’s pace while those against the leaders and members of this Government such as Ravi Karunanayake and Parliamentarian Hirunika Premachandra had been swift.
Minister Ravi Karunanayake resigned on August 10. He was replaced by Tilak Marapana who also resigned as Law and Order Minister 21 months ago
Wijeyadasa was one of the three ministers of the Yahapalana Government, who had earned the wrath of the members of the same Government and the civil society organisations that called for their resignation.
Marapana and Karunanayake had already resigned whereas Wijeyadasa is still adamant even while challenging the Government unlike the other two.
Marapana and Wijeyadasa were accused in 2015 for defending the suspects of the famous Avant Garde case.
Wijeyadasa was not prepared to follow suit despite him having defended the Avant Garde suspects and even having openly said that he would not allow the former Defence Secretary to be arrested
How can one say that Ravi created a new tradition or culture by his resignation whereas Marapana did not?
If he had resigned due to the guilty consciousness over his acceptance of the penthouse he should have done so when Aluthgamage told it, if in fact he was unaware of it till then.
Wijeyadasa despite his challenge that he would not allow Gothabaya Rajapaksa to be arrested says that law takes its course and he did not interfere with it which nobody has thus far factually contested.
August 18, 2017, 11:13 pm
The Board of Directors after having carefully studied this issue has advised that all these allegations amount to a series of criminal acts published by Ilangamuwa, and further that these statements are defamatory. The Board has advised to proceed to take legal action against Ilangamuwa and his collaborators.
Two complaints have been made with the Hong Kong Police on behalf of the AHRC, on the following possible criminal offenses committed by those who are engaged in publishing malicious materials against the AHRC. These offenses include: (1) access to computer with dishonest intent; (2) attempted fraud to cause the ALRC financial loss; (3) data destruction and theft. After the preliminary enquiry into the two complaints, the Hong Kong Police has informed us that the complaints are being investigated.
Once the police complaint was filed, one of the collaborators of Ilangamuwa wrote to the AHRC, apologising for what he has written. Meanwhile we have been informed, that Ilangamuwa having been informed about the police complaint against him and his collaborator, has fled from Hong Kong on 14 August 2017.
Ilangamuwa sought the assistance of the AHRC a few years ago, claiming that he is under threat from the then Sri Lankan government, because he was working as a journalist in Sri Lanka. As a matter of protection to a person who was alleging to be persecuted, the AHRC assisted Ilangamuwa for a considerable time.
Ilangamuwa’s recent emails are a retaliation against his loss of job, and is motivated purely by revenge for the loss of his job. Ilangamuwa writes as “editor, a special correspondent, informed source etc.”, and also in the name of various imaginary entities he has created. The purpose of assuming these multiple roles is to disclaim responsibility for what he writes, since Ilangamuwa is fully aware that all allegations that have been made are fabricated, false, and imaginary and that this amounts to commission of crimes.
We are also on receipt of the copies of communications that Ilangamuwa has sent to the donors where Ilangamuwa has made allegations with the view to deprive AHRC donor support. All these have been replied to.
We regret to inform you about all these matters. However, since such a malicious campaign can have adverse impact upon those who have no understanding about the actual situation we are issuing this statement. If you hear any further about the malicious campaign against the AHRC, you could always contact us for clarification.
Rasmea Odeh stood in a US federal courtroom in Detroit packed with her supporters, law enforcement officials and journalists on Thursday and recounted her treatment at the hands of Israeli occupation forces decades ago.
“They tortured me, they raped me, they destroyed my house,” the Palestinian community leader said.
This was part of a statement she made before US District Judge Gershwin Drain imposed a sentence on her. The hearing was supposed to be a formality, albeit one that sets the 70-year-old on a new course in her life.
But there was some drama in the courtroom.
Odeh’s lead lawyer, Michael Deutsch, told the judge he thought immigration fraud charges should never have been brought against Odeh. But given the outcome, the court should spare Odeh a fine that would deplete her modest savings that she will need to start a new life.
Prosecutor Jonathan Tukel countered the favorable picture Deutsch had painted of Odeh as a dedicated community organizer, insisting there was evidence she had been involved in bombings in Jerusalem in 1969.
“I am not a terrorist”
Then it was Odeh’s turn to speak.
“I’m standing today to raise my voice on behalf of myself as a Palestinian woman and on behalf of all Palestinians whether in refugee camps or scattered across the world,” she stated.
Odeh recounted Israel’s ethnic cleansing and mass killings of Palestinians and the occupation of their land, its violations of international law and the role the US plays in enabling it. She said Palestinians have as much right to resist occupation as Americans would if their country were invaded.
Drain interrupted Odeh, but she insisted on carrying on.
“This is the first and last time to raise my voice,” she said. “I’m not a terrorist and my people are not terrorists.”
“You weren’t found guilty of being a terrorist and you didn’t plead guilty to being a terrorist,” Drain replied. “So all this has no bearing on the sentence I will impose.”
Drain interrupted Odeh twice more, urging her to wrap up and threatening to jail her for contempt if she didn’t.
But Drain stuck to the terms of a deal outlined at a hearing last April when Odeh pleaded guilty to knowingly making false statements about her history in her immigration and naturalization applications.
Drain sentenced Odeh to time served – the 33 days she spent in jail in 2014 – and a fine of $1,000. She will also lose her US citizenship and be required to leave the country.
“You’ve done a lot of good community work,” Drain told Odeh. “You’ve helped the people in the Chicago area quite a bit, all the Palestinian women who immigrated here.”
“But still you were untruthful and dishonest about the statements you made in your application. I don’t at all want to minimize the nature of your offense,” he added. “It’s a serious offense.”
Drain noted the attention Odeh’s case has garnered and the strong support the community has shown.
“I don’t have any reservations about the fact that when you get back to Jordan or wherever you go, you will be welcomed with open arms,” Drain told Odeh. “I know that the Palestinian community loves and respects you.”
Exactly when she leaves the US is now up to US immigration authorities.
Many of Odeh’s supporters who made the trip to Detroit for her final court hearing were at a celebration with more than 1,200 people in Chicago on Saturday to honor and bid farewell to the community activist.
Before the sentencing hearing on Thursday they rallied outside the courthouse as they have during every other court appointment, this time despite heavy rain.
Thursday’s hearing marked the end of Odeh’s four-year legal battle with the US government.
When Odeh was indicted in October 2013, she maintained her innocence, taking her case to trial instead of accepting the plea deal that was offered at the time.
She was convicted in a trial in November 2014, but won an appeal in February 2016.
She was prepared to go to a new trial to argue that she had failed to disclose her conviction and imprisonment by the Israeli military on her immigration forms due to her post-traumatic stress disorder.
But during the preliminary phase of the new trial, federal prosecutors expanded their indictment against Odeh, adding charges that she was a member of a “terrorist” group.
Odeh was originally charged with immigration fraud for failing to disclose her conviction by an Israeli military court in 1969 for alleged involvement in two bombings in Jerusalem, one of which killed two civilians.
She was also convicted by the Israeli military court for alleged membership in the Popular Front for the Liberation of Palestine, a group that was designated as a terrorist organization by the US in 1997.
As the attorney Michael Deutsch told Odeh’s supporters at the celebration in Chicago on Saturday, “We didn’t achieve the goal we set out to achieve – to keep her in this country.”
“The reality was it was going to be a very, very difficult fight in the federal court,” Deutsch added, explaining that even if Odeh was acquitted at a new trial, the government still intended to use administrative procedures to deport her anyway.
“Not guilty in the federal court would not have kept her in this country,” he said.
“We knew they were going to make it into a terrorism trial,” Deutsch added. “After a long hard struggle and talk, we decided the best alternative was to take the plea that we took.”
Deutsch said there were still “some victories” in the outcome, notably that Odeh won’t spend any more time in prison on top of the five weeks she spent in custody in 2014.
“We were able to bring out in the federal court and the public that the Israeli government systematically tortures political people, and that Rasmea was tortured and suffers from post-traumatic stress as a result of that torture,” Deutsch said.
“We were also able to show that the sham [Israeli] military tribunals that convict 99.4 percent of the Palestinians that go before them is a sham and is illegal under international law.”
Deutsch praised supporters who had traveled to Detroit repeatedly over the years, but reserved his warmest words for Odeh: “She has been a model for us and given us strength in some of the darkest periods of our struggle in the courtroom.”
Saturday’s farewell event was a celebration of Odeh’s years as a community leader in Chicago.
Odeh is associate director of the Arab American Action Network, where she founded the women’s committee that is credited with organizing and empowering hundreds of immigrant women.
The Chicago event was a strong demonstration of cross-community solidarity, endorsed by more than 50 organizations.
“Many of us are sad and angry that we could not achieve a complete victory in Rasmea’s case,” the iconic scholar and activist Angela Davis said in a keynote address. “As Fidel used to say, we will turn a defeat into a victory!”
“This is a beautiful event and a beautiful night … but it’s also a very difficult night for me,” Odeh told the crowd in an emotional speech on Saturday.
“You are the ones who supported me when I needed you, providing a safe place and a warm environment to help me begin a new life away from here.”
Odeh vowed that she will continue the struggle for Palestinian rights wherever she lands.
Where her new life will be is still uncertain. Her lawyers say Odeh, who is a citizen of Jordan, is still exploring options about where she will go.
The messages, obtained by Middle East Eye through the GlobalLeaks hacking group, show Otaiba mocking Saudi Arabia to his Egyptian wife, Abeer Shoukry, over the Saudi religious police’s 2008 decision to ban red roses on Valentine’s Day.
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In another email, Yousef Otaiba wrote that Abu Dhabi has warred for 200 years with the Saudis over Wahhabism and that the Emiratis had more “bad history” with Saudi Arabia than anyone else. In a third, he revealed that now was the time when the Emiratis could get “the most results we can ever get out of Saudi”.
But the bulk of the exchanges add up to more than casual reflections and snipes by an Emirati ambassador.
They betray a clear plan by Abu Dhabi to paint Saudi Arabia as a dysfunctional, religiously conservative backwater whose best hope for reform was Mohammed bin Salman, the newly appointed crown prince.
Mohammed bin Zayed, the crown prince of Abu Dhabi, regards himself as MBS’s mentor and the two have been known to hold as many as three meetings a month, a source told MEE.
Cometh the hour
Otaiba is clear in his emails that the arrival of the 31-year-old MBS as crown prince earlier this year was a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity for the Emiratis to stamp their mark on their much larger neighbour. This was corroborated by informed sources who spoke to MEE on condition of anonymity.
The mosaic displayed by Otaiba’s leaked emails and multiple MEE sources confirm that the Emirati ambassador performed the lead role in selling the Saudi prince to a sceptical Washington audience, while the Saudi embassy remained mostly passive.
Saudi ministers were cut out of the loop when MBS and his brother Khaled flew in for a secret meeting with President Donald Trump at his Bedminster golf club just weeks before Trump’s visit to Riyadh, MEE can reveal.
Local press speculated that Trump had spent the weekend merely indulging in golf. The venue was probably chosen as a secret meeting site for his Saudi guests because the private estate shields residents from the view of journalists and their cameras, unlike Trump Tower or Mar-a-Lago.
While there, MBS and Khaled hashed out and agreed upon the pageantry that was to come for the star-studded Riyadh visit by Trump.
These high-level contacts that Otaiba helped nurture may give him great satisfaction. On 21 May, Otaiba wrote to influential New York Times columnist Tom Friedman: “Abu Dhabi fought 200 years of wars with Saudi over Wahhabism. We have more bad history with Saudi than anyone.
“But with MBS we see a genuine change. And that’s why we’re excited. We finally see hope there and we need it to succeed.”
In an exchange with Brian Katulis, a senior fellow at the Centre for American Progress, Otaiba said: “MBS reminds [sic] of a younger, and yes, slightly less experienced MBZ.”
A month earlier, Otaiba wrote to Martin Indyk, a former US ambassador to Israel: “I don’t think we’ll ever see a more pragmatic leader in that country. Which is why engaging with them is so important and will yield the most results we can ever get out of Saudi.”
In other emails Otaiba championed bin Salman as a reformer “on a mission to make the Saudi government more efficient,” a man who “thinks like a private sector guy”.
Otaiba wrote to Steven Cook, a senior fellow at the Council on Foreign Relations: “Finally, just my humble observation. MBS is a reformer. He believes in very much what we in the UAE believe in. Empowering young people, making govt accountable. He is a result oriented person.
MBS is a reformer. He believes in very much what we in the UAE believe in
– Yousef Otaiba, UAE ambassador
“And he has no time for incompetence. What’s driving is the desire to get things done and to get things fixed. Not a palace coup or power play.”
Sowing the seeds of doubt
Still, Otaiba played politics inside the House of Saud itself. He was all too aware that the young prince faced overcoming his elder cousin, Mohammed bin Nayef.
Bin Nayef enjoyed a reputation in the US as a safe pair of hands on counter-terrorism – and so the Emirati envoy set about sowing the seeds of doubt.
More than a year before bin Nayef was sacked in June as crown prince, over an addiction to painkillers alleged to cloud his judgment, Otaiba began an influence campaign in Washington, using rumours about MBN’s mental state.
In an email exchange on 14 December 2015 with David Petraeus, the former director of the CIA and commander of coalition forces in Iraq asks Otaiba whether Nayef – MBN – still wielded influence.
Otaiba replies: “MBS is definitely more active on most day to day issues. MBN seems a little off his game lately.”
MBN seems a little off his game lately
– Yousef Otaiba, UAE ambassador
Petraeus pushes back: “Need him in it too. MOI [bin Nayef’s interior ministry] important to the kingdom. Needs to forge a pact with the younger member. Will encourage when there.”
Otaiba writes back: “Agreed. This is a unique case where the success of Saudi Arabia depends on the success of MBZ [Zayed] and MBN working together. I think the bilateral relationship between them is much stronger than people here seem to believe.
“But I also think MBN’s level of self confidence is not where it used to be.”
Six months later, Otaiba wrote to Steven Cook that he would be “very surprised” if MBS tried to leapfrog MBN, but added: “I met MBN recently and to put it lightly, he was not impressive, much less lucid.”
The role that Otaiba played as fixer for bin Salman is also shown in an exchange he had with Robert Malley, then senior director at the National Security Council, who asked for a meeting for a minister close to the prince.
In another exchange, a State Department official asks Otaiba to broker a meeting between MBS and Brett McGurk, then special envoy for the global coalition to counter Islamic State, and Malley.
The effect of this PR effort on MBS’s career has been startling. In January 2015, he and his father Salman were a hair’s breadth from losing the Saudi throne.
King Abdullah was in a coma in the hospital of the Saudi National Guard, which is run by his son Prince Meteb, for at least 10 days before his death. His real condition was kept a closely guarded secret. It was known to only two people in the Royal Court, his son Meteb and the head of the royal court, Khaled al-Tuwaijri.
MEE sources with direct knowledge of the events say that Tuwaijri and Meteb planned to forge Abdullah’s signature on a decree removing the then crown prince, Salman, from the line of succession by claiming he was unfit for office. His dementia was evident in January 2015.
Had this decree been published, Muqrin bin Abdul Aziz, the then deputy crown prince, would have been promoted to crown prince and Prince Meteb would have become his deputy. It had been Abdullah’s intention to install Muqrin as king – he was one of the few surviving brothers before the next generation of rulers could be selected.
For Salman and his ambitious son Mohammed, speed was of the essence. They made an unannounced visit to the hospital and demanded to see the king. They were met by Tuwaijri, who attempted to turn them away, by telling them the king had been awake earlier but that he was now sedated and needed rest.
The pair persisted and unknown to Tuwaijri confronted one of the doctors. The startled physician admitted to them the king had, in fact, been in a coma for a number of days and that the prognosis was not good.
Bin Salman then charged down the corridor of the hospital to confront Tuwaijri. A crack was heard as he forcefully slapped Tuwaijri, sources told MEE.
A stunned Tuwaijri was told that once his father was king, he would be history. As soon as the secret of the king’s condition was known, the plan to forge a royal decree was dropped.
Once king, Salman used Tuwaijri’s plan against the clan in the royal family who had just lost out. Tuwaijri was fired, Muqrin was removed as crown prince within a couple of months and bin Nayef was moved into his old position.
When the time came to dispose of bin Nayef and promote his own son, bin Salman, the king used the same formula of accusing bin Nayef of mental incapacity.
This was not the first reported case when the young prince used, or threatened, physical violence. Years earlier when his father wanted a plot of land re-zoned and a judge refused, the prince went to visit him. He placed a bullet on his desk and told the judge: “Either you sign the paper, or I will put that bullet through your head.”
Introduction to Trump
Before bin Salman could complete his rise to power and take over his elder cousin’s role, he had to have Trump’s backing.
On 13 March this year, there was an unusually harsh snowstorm in Washington, which prevented the arrival of the German chancellor, Angela Merkel, who was scheduled to start her state visit the next day.
Bin Salman, Adel al-Jubeir, the Saudi foreign minister, and the Saudi delegation were already in town and scheduled to meet with Trump, his son-in-law Jared Kushner and chief strategist Steve Bannon on 16 March.
Otaiba spotted the opportunity. He suggested that the White House take advantage of the opening in the president’s schedule to get to know the young prince.
The meeting and lunch was hailed as a success, although Trump told staffers he had been “grossed out” by sitting across the table from Saudis who have “cut off more heads than IS”.
A few months later Trump’s first visit was announced, although he was initially reluctant and had to be talked into it. The Emiratis were the prime mover for the trip, and behind the idea to bring the leaders of all Arab states to attend, sources told MEE.
First, bin Salman and his younger brother Khaled had to do business with Trump.
On Saturday 6 May, Trump tweeted that he was staying at his home in Bedminster, New Jersey.
“The reason I am staying in Bedminster, NJ, a beautiful community, is that staying in NYC is much more expensive and disruptive. Meetings!” Trump tweeted.
Trump was trying to allay criticism over how he had spent eight of this first 16 weekends away from Washington.
MEE can reveal bin Salman and his brother Khaled, now US ambassador, joined Trump in New Jersey at the time. No Saudi minister knew about it. They flew to Bedminster where a $40bn investment in US infrastructure was first mooted, along with an arms deal worth as much as $500bn.
This article is available in French on Middle East Eye French edition.
The United States has slapped sanctions on top Socialist Party officials, accusing them, among other things, of weakening democracy and violating human rights. Washington has said it will consider sanctions against anyone who participates in the constituent assembly.