Tom Barrack, the former chief executive of Colony Capital who was one of Donald Trump’s earliest supporters in the 2016 presidential campaign, has been arrested and charged with illegally acting as an agent of the United Arab Emirates.
Barrack served as chair of Trump’s inaugural committee and as an informal adviser to his campaign and his administration, during which time, prosecutors alleged, he counselled senior US officials on foreign policy in the Middle East.
He was taken into custody in California on Tuesday morning, the US Department of Justice said.
According to an indictment unsealed by a federal court in Brooklyn on Tuesday, the veteran real estate investor allegedly used a dedicated phone loaded with encryption software to co-ordinate with UAE officials on ways “to advance the [country’s] foreign policy interests by attempting to influence US foreign policy”.
Federal prosecutors also charged Matthew Grimes, a former Colony executive who reported directly to Barrack, and Rashid Al Malik, a UAE national who was living in California on a student visa, in connection with the alleged conspiracy.
Barrack is also facing charges of obstruction of justice and making false statements when the Federal Bureau of Investigation questioned him.
“The defendants repeatedly capitalised on Barrack’s friendships and access to a candidate who was eventually elected president, high-ranking campaign and government officials, and the American media to advance the policy goals of a foreign government without disclosing their true allegiances,” said Mark Lesko, acting assistant attorney-general in the justice department’s national security division.
Prosecutors accused Barrack of helping win a hearing with the Trump administration for the UAE’s position on issues ranging from a Saudi-led regional embargo on Qatar to the legal status of the Muslim Brotherhood, a transnational Sunni Islamist organisation that Trump considered labelling as a terrorist organisation.
The UAE, which has become one of the Arab world’s most influential and assertive states, has been long considered an important US partner in the Middle East.
In text messages cited by prosecutors, Barrack seemed to express enthusiasm for his alleged role as an unofficial diplomat.
“Our ppl wants u to help,” Rashid Al Malik is said to have texted Barrack in 2017. “They were hoping you can officially run the agendas.”
“I will!” Barrack replied, according to prosecutors.
A spokesperson for Barrack, who left Colony in March, said on Tuesday that he planned to fight the charges.
“Barrack has made himself voluntarily available to investigators from the outset,” the spokesperson said. “He is not guilty and will be pleading not guilty.”