A troubled desert emirate has hit the headlines again after a contentious link up between Wales’ main airport and an airline controlled by the state which has been accused of supporting terrorism but was hugely-praised in the mainstream media, The Eye can reveal.
The Chairman of Cardiff Airport (CA) Roger Lewis described as “transformational” the connection with the state-controlled Qatar Airways (QA).
The airport itself has been enormously controversial after being bought by the Welsh Government (WG) for £52 million, and now it emerging the WG has granted a £21 million loan.
Bad news has appeared to come thick and fast for CA.
Now three former Barclays executives have appeared in court on charges of a major fraud connected with Qatar’s alleged role in the bank’s emergency fundraising during the financial crisis.
An Old Bailey trial is due to last four to five months after the Serious Fraud Office (SFO) charged the men with conspiracy to commit fraud by false representation in relation to the bank’s capital raising in 2008. The SFO alleges Barclays secretly paid fees to Qatar to secure funding for its capital raising, which helped the bank avoid state support.
It is the only criminal case in Britain to be brought against banking executives for their actions during the financial crisis.
Meanwhile a top-level investigation by The Times has disclosed that a British bank also controlled by the Qatari state, Al Rayan, was providing financial services to multiple British organisations linked to Islamists.
Some of the bank’s clients have had their accounts with western banks frozen or closed in a security clampdown, and it counts among its customers a charity banned in the USA as a terrorist entity, groups that promote hardline preachers and a mosque whose long-term trustee is a Hamas leader. A former executive of the bank also has an alarming past
Sultan Choudhury had been director of a worrying religious institute. Mr Choudhary was Al Rayan’s Chief Executive until April and was also an unpaid director for seven years until 2016 of the British arm of a global religious institute whose speakers and instructors have included advocates of child marriage, female circumcision and the death penalty for adultery and apostasy.
But disturbing headlines have continued to swirl around Qatar’s alleged actvities, putting further pressure on the association with CA. The UK Government has issued a stern warning about the state. It told potential travellers to the country they faced major risks, and it stated on its advice website: “Terrorists are likely to try to carry out attacks in Qatar“.
Eight sovereign nations around the world have severed diplomatic ties with Qatar and in July 2017 it was reported that the state had been cut off by some of its powerful Arab neighbours over its alleged terrorist support. Qatar denies supporting groups linked to IS although it does admit it supports the Muslim Brotherhood.
The emirate had refused to comply with an initial list of 13 demands, saying it would not agree to any measures that threatened its sovereignty or violated international law. But it was told by its neighbours that they wanted it to accept six broad principles on combating extremism and terrorism.
Qatar also hosted the ousted ruler of Sudan, Omar al-Bashir, who has now been charged with incitement and involvement in the killing of protesters. It also kept silent as hundreds of thousands of Algerians protested, chanting “the people want the regime to go”. Hundreds of millions of dollars in ‘aid’ money has too been given by Qatar to Hamas, the group which holds sway in the Gaza Strip, and which has been designated by the USA as a terrorist organisation.
Qatar’s successful football World Cup bid has prompted major questions as well, putting under more strain the relationship with CA. The sister paper to The Times, The Sunday Times, has revealed that the tiny desert state had secretly offered £400 million to FIFA just 21 days before the worrying decision was announced to hold the 2022 football World Cup there.
Despite all these controversies the mainstream media, senior politicians in Wales as well as executives at CA have lauded the connection with QA, and The Eye have been the only Welsh media organisation to report uncomfortable facts about the country.
In interviews, the First Minister of Wales at the time, Carwyn Jones stated: “We would like to work with his excellency (Akbar Al Baker the Chief Executive of QA)“. He tweeted that he “welcomed” the first QA flight into CA and said it represented a “huge boost” for Wales.
The Welsh Secretary Alun Cairns informed us: “The new flight from Cardiff to Doha (the capital of Qatar) plugs our entrepreneurs straight into one of the most dynamic economies in the Middle East, and an airport which offers a further 150 global destinations”.
The Eye have been alone in exposing the connection between these controversies and the tie-up with CA. The mainstream media’s response to the announcement of the new route at the time was extraordinary, and became the subject of our satirical writer Edwin Phillips.
The new flight to Qatar’s Hamed International Airport was described positively in the South Wales Echo as providing “capacity for 150,000 passengers a year, as well as significant freight capacity for Welsh exporters at around 10 tonnes a flight”.
In April 2017 BBC Wales’s Economics Correspondent Sarah Dickins said approvingly: “The new direct route from Cardiff to Doha is a reminder not just that the economy of Qatar is growing significantly but also that trade between Wales, the Arab world and beyond is increasing”.
When the first flight from Doha was due, WalesOnline reported faithfully the words of Mr Lewis when he said: “This is a pivotal moment for Cardiff Airport, for Wales and the South West of England. The far reaching consequences of this service for passengers and businesses will be transformational”.
The same praising word was used by the present Chief Executive of CA Deb Bowen Rees who told the South Wales Echo: “The Qatar Airways service has been transformational…”
The Chairman of CA, Mr Lewis, has also transformed himself since the tie-up with QA. He is to take on a new position as president of the National Museum of Wales/Amgueddfa Cymru.
But he is no stranger to controversies.
Before his tenure at CA, he was fully immersed during a tumultuous period in charge of the Welsh Rugby Union (WRU) when his institution engaged in a fierce row with the regions, which he lost.
Yet despite this chequered history, on his appointment, the Welsh Deputy Minister for Culture Sport and Tourism, Lord Dafydd Elis-Thomas, said: “I’m delighted with Roger’s appointment as the new president for Amgueddfa Cymru”.
Mr Lewis too has apparently seen his moves in a positive light and has commented on television in the past: “I know my success is staggering to many”.
Part of that ‘staggering success’ may be that he has also threatened to place a legal injunction on The Eye to stop a previous article about him being published which he did not like, but was effectively only a pull-together of previous statements such as this.
It could also be viewed as ‘staggering’ that the mainstream media in Wales have applauded the main airport he was in charge of at the time, linking up with a desert state accused of bribery and supporting terrorism, which has hit the headlines for all the wrong reasons.
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