UAE sued in $2.8bn US lawsuit over ‘dark PR’ disinformation op

Copyright AFP SAM PANTHAKY

The United Arab Emirates and its powerful ruler were sued in a Washington court Wednesday, accused of bankrolling a “dark public relations” operation that falsely linked an American oil trader to terrorist financing.

The lawsuit filed by the trader Hazim Nada in the District of Columbia alleges that starting in 2017 the UAE paid a Swiss private intelligence firm, Alp Services, to “seriously damage” his reputation and business in a sweeping smear campaign.

The alleged operation against Nada, first reported by The New Yorker in May, spotlights a booming industry of what security analysts call “disinformation-for-hire” enterprises that seed false narratives and peddle influence operations on behalf of governments and other paying clients.

Nada is suing dozens of parties including the UAE, its president Sheikh Mohamed bin Zayed Al Nahyan, its national oil company ADNOC, Emirati officials and Alp Services.

Nada is seeking damages worth $2.77 billion, his lawyers said.

“The United Arab Emirates and some of its top officials managed, directed, and bankrolled a years-long ‘dark’ public relations campaign through the Swiss private investigative firm, Alp Services,” the complaint said.

The lawsuit claimed that the UAE, along with the Geneva-based Alp, paid “journalists” and a professor at George Washington University in Washington DC among many others to smear dozens of people, including Nada and his commodities trading firm Lord Energy.

There was no immediate comment from the UAE embassy in Washington, Alp Services or the professor, Lorenzo Vidino.

The lawsuit stated that Alp approached the UAE in 2017, offering to use “offensive viral communications” to defame Nada and dozens of other parties seen as hostile to the oil-rich Gulf state.

Alp boasted of its ability to conduct “disinformation operations,” on companies and individuals, saying its clients included nation states and the wealthy, according to court filings, audio recordings and other documents seen by AFP.

The plan relied on sowing doubts about Nada, who was born in the US state of Maryland, by saying Lord Energy was a front company for the Muslim Brotherhood, the Sunni Islamist organization founded in Egypt in 1928.

In one exchange with a representative of the UAE government, Alp declared that its actions — which included fraudulently posing as Nada to illegally obtain telephone records and other confidential information — managed to bankrupt Lord Energy in less than two years.

Nada’s father was involved with the Islamist group, but he himself had no ties to it, the lawsuit said.

The UAE has long opposed the Muslim Brotherhood and designated it as a terrorist group in 2014.

Nada said he has passed on more than 8,000 of Alp’s internal documents said to illustrate the disinformation effort — procured from anonymous hackers — to US law enforcement agencies.

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