NEW YORK (Reuters) – Tom Barrack, a one-time Donald Trump fundraiser, acknowledged Thursday that he hoped his ties to the then-president would encourage a UAE official to invest with his company, but said he did not agree to share political access for a working relationship.
Federal prosecutors in Brooklyn say Barrack, 75, used his influence in the Trump campaign and administration in 2016 and 2017 to promote the interests of the United Arab Emirates without informing the US attorney general that he was acting as an agent for the country, as required by law.
Barrack has pleaded not guilty, and said his interactions with officials in the Middle East were part of his role in running the private equity firm Colony Capital, now known as DigitalBridge Group Inc. (DBRG.N). He began testifying in his own defense on Monday, denying his agreement to act on UAE directives.
During an interrogation on Thursday, Attorney General Sam Nitz asked Barrack if he hoped his ties with Trump would fire him in his pursuit of investment from Sheikh Tahnoon bin Zayed Al Nahyan, the national security official in the United Arab Emirates who also runs a bank. , when the two met in the UAE in May 2016.
“You can’t just be another deal guy, right, showing up with your bag and your PowerPoint deck,” said Nitzy. “Yes or no, one of the things I wanted to introduce to Sheikh Tahnoun was your arrival at Donald Trump?”
Barak answered in the affirmative to both questions. But when asked by Nitze if he would agree to allow Sheikh Tahnoun access and influence “in the hope of securing a long-term business relationship,” Barak replied, “No.”
Prosecutors cited the investments of two Emirati sovereign wealth funds in Colony’s projects in 2017 and 2018 as evidence of Barak’s motivation to act as an agent.
And under direct scrutiny by his attorney Michael Schacher earlier on Thursday, Barak testified that he was not much involved in deals totaling $374 million. He said that one of the funds, Mubadala, nearly pulled out of one of the deals after learning that there would be a participating Israeli investor.
“If Mubadala is investing for you in exchange for acting as an Emirati agent, would you expect them to threaten to quit?” Schachter said
“Probably not,” Barak replied.
Mubadala did not immediately respond to a request for comment outside UAE business hours.
Barak, while questioned by Schachter, said he urged the then president to use the killing of Saudi journalist Jamal Khashoggi as a “leverage” to get Saudi Arabia to end the blockade of Qatar that began in 2017.
Barak’s testimony that he defended Qatar’s interests could undermine the accusations he committed at the UAE’s behest. Barak is not accused of acting as a Saudi agent, but the country is close to the Emirates, which implemented the blockade alongside Saudi Arabia, Bahrain and others.
He said that during an October 2018 phone call with Trump – after Khashoggi was murdered in Saudi Arabia’s consulate in Turkey – he urged the then-president to use global outrage over the killing “as a lever for this stupid blockade”.
US intelligence says the killing of Khashoggi, an insider-turned-critic Saudi, had the approval of Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman, the de facto ruler. The prince denied ordering the killing but admitted it was “under my tutelage”.
(Luke Cohen reports) in New York. Editing by Jonathan Otis and Nolin Walder
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