HE WOMEN WERE brought into the Abu Dhabi apartment in abayas.
“Pick who you want,” the men were told, and she would be theirs until noon the next day.
Roman Paschal recalled about seven women to choose from. They dropped their long cloaks, he said, revealing “nightclub clothes” underneath. He picked a woman who turned out to be from Romania.
Paschal had been flown to the United Arab Emirates by his friend Yousef Al Otaiba, in whose apartment they were gathered. It was the winter of 2003-2004, and Otaiba was a rising star in the UAE, though still a few years away from becoming the nation’s ambassador to the United States.
He had recently befriended Otaiba at a Washington, D.C., strip club, quickly becoming a charter member of a tightknit crew that the Emirati once affectionately referred to as “team ‘Alpha.’” This was Paschal’s introduction to the high-flying life Otaiba led. And it wouldn’t be his last. For four years, he partied with Otaiba in Washington, New York, Los Angeles, and Abu Dhabi, with Otaiba footing the eye-popping bills.
Read Our Complete Coverage
Making a Killing
Paschal dropped out of the group of friends in 2007, but the lifestyle from their days together would eventually collide with Otaiba’s public life. In 2008, Otaiba hired an original member of his partying crew, his college buddy Byron Fogan, to run a personal foundation with millions of dollars in UAE funding. He also arranged for Fogan to be simultaneously employed by the embassy as a legal adviser, and by the Washington public relations firm, The Harbour Group, working on behalf of the UAE.
After Fogan was arrested for pilfering more than $1 million dollars from the foundation, he told prosecutors that secret alcohol and gambling addictions had driven his crime. With the foundation defunct, Otaiba paid Fogan’s legal bills and kept him on in his two remaining roles with the embassy as he awaited sentencing. Emails obtained by The Intercept, spanning more than a decade of Otaiba’s interactions with Fogan, suggest the ambassador was anything but unaware of Fogan’s habits.
Otaiba on UAE prostitution: “It’s big but not blatant.”
long the way, Otaiba has become one of the most powerful and well-connected men in Washington, reportedly in touch with Jared Kushner, President Donald Trump’s son-in-law and adviser, on a weekly basis. His spending on galas, hospital wings, dinner parties, and birthday bashes has become legendary. Close with CIA Director Mike Pompeo and other top national security officials, Otaiba has bankrolled nearly every major think tank in Washington.
The Emirati envoy’s cachet stems in part from his close relationship with Mohammed bin Zayed al-Nahyan, who is widely considered to be the effective ruler of the UAE. The crown prince of Abu Dhabi, he is known in the region and in Washington by his initials MBZ. Since 2000, Otaiba has reported directly to MBZ as his head of international affairs, and then as the ambassador in Washington. “Before I was introduced to him, the way he was described to me was the guy MBZ trusts most on foreign issues and one of the smartest people in the UAE,” said Kristofer Harrison, a former Bush administration official who worked closely with Otaiba.
The diplomat has worked tirelessly for nearly two decades to push Washington’s defense and foreign policy establishment to adopt MBZ’s hawkish ideas on Iran, the Muslim Brotherhood, and other contentious policy areas. Otaiba has been a leading voice in Washington for the war in Yemen, where the UAE operates torture warehouses and funds death squads. The conflict has left more than 10,000 dead and countless more starving and stricken with a cholera epidemic of historic proportions.
A fixture among Washington society, Otaiba spent much of the last decade carefully constructing the image of an enlightened Persian Gulf diplomat — forward-thinking on women’s rights, secularism, and embracing the modern world. On International Women’s Day this year, he published an open letter to his young daughter to drive the point home.
Otaiba’s homeland, meanwhile, does not often live up to such values. The UAE has some of the most draconian sex crime laws of any place in the world. Just last week, a man and a woman were arrested for having a conversation in a car while being unrelated and unmarried. This week, two defendants were spared prison time for the crime of “indecent attire,” but fined and deported nonetheless.
The sex crime statutes tend to be employed as a cudgel against political dissidents or people, often foreigners, with limited political power; ruling-class figures, in contrast, operate under a different set of informal rules. “The UAE elite enjoy impunity at home and the full support and protection of the UAE state when they break the law abroad,” said Nick McGeehan, a researcher for Human Rights Watch who works on the Gulf.
In private, Otaiba has made candid admissions about the sex trade in Abu Dhabi rarely seen from high-level figures in the region. In February 2008, “60 Minutes” ran a segment focused on Dubai that touched on sex work and trafficking industries. The next day, a friend from college emailed Otaiba. “I was looking for you on 60 Minutes last night. How big is the prostitution problem?” he wondered, according to a copy of the exchange obtained by The Intercept.
“I mean… why were you looking for me on a subject like that dog,” quipped Otaiba, before getting serious. “Its big but not blatant…meaning they’re not on the street corners.. its under cover in homes and apts.. not in your face type stuff. Dubai is definitely more visible than abu dhabi.”
Paschal, top, and Otaiba, bottom, with friends. Photo: Provided by Paschal
HE LIFESTYLE LED by Otaiba and his friends would likely have remained a secret but for frequent messages about their revelry found in Otaiba’s Hotmail account.
It’s not clear whether Otaiba’s inbox was hacked or passed along by someone with access to the account, but copies of the emails are now in the possession of a group calling itself Global Leaks, which, over the summer, began selectively releasing Otaiba’s emails to several media outlets, including The Intercept.
The name Global Leaks is a winking reference to DC Leaks, the hackers who stole and distributed emails from prominent Democrats during last year’s presidential election, and which U.S. intelligence agencies say is a front for Russian government operatives. The Global Leaks operatives use a .ru email account, which suggests they are either Russian or attempting to give the impression they are Russian.
The UAE has also developed a roster of enemies in the region. The Global Leaks emails began to dribble out just as a geopolitical row between the UAE and its neighbors in Qatar came to a head. The UAE, along with some of its Gulf allies, broke off diplomatic relations and blockaded Qatar — in part over its relations with Iran, another regional powerhouse at loggerheads with the UAE and its Gulf allies.
The emails obtained through Global Leaks provide a rare window into the life of a jet-setting diplomatic power player. In the years since, the importance of the crew around Otaiba has only increased, as Otaiba brought his nightlife friend Fogan into his day job by hiring him to work for the embassy. It ended badly, with Fogan locked away in prison, convicted of embezzling money from Otaiba’s charity — a crime blamed in part on a fast-lane lifestyle.
From left, U.S. Ambassador to the UAE Richard Olson, U.S. Defense Secretary Robert Gates, Abu Dhabi Crown Prince Mohammed bin Zayed bin Sultan Al Nahyan, and Otaiba meet at the crown prince’s home, April 8, 2011, in Abu Dhabi, UAE.Photo: Chip Somodevilla/Getty Images
EARS BEFORE HIS meteoric rise as a Washington operator, one of Otaiba’s mentors, Frank Wisner, the former ambassador to Egypt, where Otaiba went to high school, encouraged the young Emirati to go to Georgetown University, in Washington. “He wasn’t off to university to chase girls, drink beer, play football,” said Wisner, for a profile of Otaiba I co-wrote in 2015. “He wanted to prepare himself for the life that lay in front of him.”
In his freshman year at school, Otaiba became friends with Fogan. In his official biography, Otaiba claims to have an international relations degree from Georgetown, but the university’s office of the registrar told The Intercept he never graduated. Fogan, the office said, graduated in 1995.
Last year, Fogan pled guilty to a single count of laundering over $1 million from a nonprofit set up by Otaiba. (“Please don’t contact me again,” said Fogan, who has been released to a halfway house, when asked to comment for this story.) The criminal conviction put him on the road to sobriety; he told investigating agents that his crimes had been agitated by inner demons only he knew about. “Hidden from friends and acquaintances was a raging problem with alcohol addiction,” his sentencing report claimed, “These addictions led to thievery.”
Fogan’s lifestyle, though, was far from secret among the circle of friends gathered around Otaiba in the mid-2000s. Otaiba first introduced Paschal and Fogan, who features prominently in the Global Leaks emails, back in 2004. “After that first time going out, I talked to a mutual friend of ours and I said, ‘Listen, I don’t ever want to meet that guy again,’” Paschal recalled. “And he said, ‘Why not?’ I said, ‘That dude’s crazy!’ He said, ‘Bro, let me tell you something funny. Byron said the exact same thing about you.’” Paschal remarked, “Byron — there’s no off switch with that guy.” He added that he and Fogan were the hardest partiers in the group: “Byron and I were the worst ones.”
Paschal wasn’t entirely surprised to see how Fogan’s saga with Otaiba ended up. “I laughed when I saw that article,” he said, referring to a news item about Fogan’s conviction, “because I just assumed that they had probably changed up, and they hadn’t continued doing that kind of stuff.”
An aerial photo shows the MGM Grand Hotel and Casino on the Las Vegas Strip October 19, 2005, in Las Vegas, Nev.Photo: Ethan Miller/Getty Images
TAIBA’S DOUBLE LIFE as a diplomat and party-goer sometimes intersected. In 2006 and 2007, Otaiba played a crucial role helping to talk other countries in the region into backing President George W. Bush’s troop surge in the Iraq War, Harrison said, a role that was confirmed by Senate Intelligence Committee Chairman Richard Burr, R-N.C. (“I’ve spent probably more time with Yousef than I have anybody,” Burr has said.)
After the surge was announced in January 2007, and Arab rulers fell in line with the U.S., it was time for Otaiba to celebrate his success. According to Paschal, Otaiba told his friends that he hoped to take a trip to see the NBA All-Star Game. “‘I gotta make sure it’s cool with Sheikh Mo, but I think so,'” Paschal recalled Otaiba saying. Sheikh Mo — Otaiba’s boss, MBZ — must have been cool with it. In an email thread with the subject line, “Vegas Baby!”, Otaiba readied his friends for a weekend in the MGM Grand’s exclusive penthouse Skylofts. “Not sure if its fear or sheer excitement that I’m experiencing right now,” he wrote. “Gentlemen, this is gonna get messy!!”
Fogan, for his part, was pumped for the trip. “OH HELL NO!!!!! THIS COULD BE THE GREATEST THING EVER!!!!!!!!!” he replied to Otaiba.
“Is my diplomatic immunity valid in Vegas?” Otaiba asked in the emails. Fogan, who was then in law school, responded, “As long as we get consent, I don’t think legal troubles will face us.” He wrote that he would draw up “cards for youngsters to sign,” what he called a “portable contract”:
I, (insert name of dumb girl), agree to let (insert name of one of us filthbags) hit it. I (insert dumb broad’s name again–if her drunk ass can remember it), am at least 18 years old. Signed (little chicks signature).
“Everything is nice and legal,” he concluded, adding a smiley face.
Fogan, then in law school, emails Otaiba about disclaimers for women they meet in Las Vegas.
In another email from the thread, Otaiba readied his friends for the planned debauchery. “Esteemed members of team ‘Alpha.’ I hereby confirm that operation DUMBO DROP which will take place in vegas over all-star weekend has officially been given the go ahead signal and shall begin deployment as scheduled,” Otaiba wrote. “I expect no less than 100% effort throughout the ENTIRE operation, anyone caught slacking will be dishonorably discharged and blacklisted from any future operations in that particular theatre. GO GO GO GO GO GO GO.”
Operation Dumbo Drop is launched.
FEW MONTHS LATER, in 2008, Otaiba would complete his methodical rise to become the UAE’s top diplomat in Washington. In a reflective mood, just weeks before presenting his official credentials to President George W. Bush, Otaiba forwarded a 2004 email exchange to Fogan. “I’m sure gonna miss these days,” he wrote. Fogan replied, “Something tells me that you will find a way around missing anything!”
Otaiba responded with a single request of his friend: “Delete!”
The 2004 emails Otaiba hoped would never see the light of day include a series of exchanges with “Tracy,” who appears to have worked finding high-price escorts for Otaiba that summer. (She poached him from another madam, whom she and Otaiba discussed in the emails.)
In one of the 2004 correspondences, Tracy, whose real identity The Intercept was unable to confirm, indicated that there had been issues with one of Otaiba’s engagements with a sex worker. “Thanks for speaking with me today,” Tracy wrote. “I am sorry that you had such problems with Kaitlyn. Like I said, I have had a similar situation as well.
“Just to let you know Kaitlyn went on and on about how good looking you were to a couple of my very close girls and these two girls are dying to work with you,” Tracy continued. “I can send them to you in your country or wait until you are in the U.S. They both have passports.” She sent him a list of names, boasting that some of the women had made appearances in well-known magazines.
Otaiba replied days later, on May 30, 2004, with a list of his preferred escorts. He inquired about one, believing the promotional picture looked dated, and requested Tracy’s banking information so the relationship could get started: “send me your account details and I’ll transfer money to your account.” After writing again to clear up the banking details, Otaiba added, “P.S Kaitlyn’s money went out today.”
Camelot, a strip club in Washington, D.C., frequented by Otaiba and his friends.Photo: Maryam Saleh
HE INTERCEPT AUTHENTICATED the emails in a number of different ways. In 2008, Otaiba and two of his closest advisers in the United States met with a fourth person, who asked to remain anonymous so that he could continue doing business in the region, to discuss how to handle a possible blackmail attempt that was underway involving the same emails that, years later, Global Leaks would distribute to journalists. (Some of the emails were posted in 2009 to an online chatroom, but have since been removed.)
“I thought he wanted to talk about tourism. Instead it was about hookers,” said the source, who was briefed on the alleged blackmail and told about the emails. Daily schedules in Otaiba’s inbox, which The Intercept obtained from Global Leaks, independently confirm that the meeting took place when the source said it did. (The source had limited involvement with the affair, and did not know the identity of the possible blackmailer or whether a demand for payment ever occurred.)
Separately, while reporting a profile on Otaiba in 2015, I obtained the “Tracy” emails, but couldn’t authenticate them at the time and didn’t use them in the story. Those emails precisely match those distributed by Global Leaks. Finally, Roman Paschal said he saw the emails in real time, as Otaiba would forward them around to his buddies to gawk at and weigh in on. He was able to describe their details without first being provided the messages.
Conversations distributed by Global Leaks suggest that interactions with sex workers were routine. In one 2006 email, Paschal, using the name “Job Bacchus,” discussed how to get strippers from Washington to where Paschal was staying, in Otaiba’s Abu Dhabi apartment. He suggested to Otaiba that another one of their friends should go to a Washington strip club called Camelot “and drop ur name and see how many sign up to go overseas.” Otaiba promptly forwarded the note to the same friend Paschal had mentioned.
Paschal emails Otaiba about having women sent to Abu Dhabi from a D.C. strip club.
Paschal was also able to provide photos that show him partying in the U.S. and Abu Dhabi with Otaiba and his pals. In one, both Paschal and Otaiba are sitting next to women who Paschal said were strippers at Camelot that Otaiba sent on a train to party with the crew in New York. Nick Triantis, the manager of Camelot, confirmed the women were former dancers. (He reached out on The Intercept’s behalf to see if they would be willing to be interviewed, but they did not respond as of this writing.)
At dinner at Nobu restaurant in New York City. On the ends, two unnamed exotic dancers from a Washington strip club, Camelot. Paschal (second from left) and Otaiba (second from right). The women had taken a train to New York.Photo: Provided by Roman Paschal
VER THE YEARS, Paschal slowly came to believe that something more sinister than consensual sex work was at play. It started with a Russian woman, who gave him her number after their first encounter. She told him that if he wanted to hang out without paying, he should call her directly. He did, and they got together a few times. During one of her visits, the woman opened up about a dark side of her work.
“I opened the door and she ran into my room and she just buried herself in the corner, almost shivering,” Paschal said. “I was like, ‘Dude, what are you doing?’ She told me she had just seen a guy who had beat her friend, and her friend was in the hospital, and then she told me how she had gotten there, and someone had taken her passport.” It’s the telltale sign that someone has become a human trafficking victim.
“He was never present when women were sent,” Paschal told me of Otaiba, whom he referred to by a nickname used among his American friends. “You can’t say that Sef is a human trafficker – he’s not. But some of the girls I was sent over there were trafficked girls.”
The Russian woman who told Paschal about having her passport stolen had been the first of several who opened up to him about the same predicament.
Human trafficking is a $150 billion global industry, according to the International Labor Organization, and the UAE is a center of gravity for the industry. Sex trafficking — when an adult is coerced, deceived, or forced into prostitution or maintained in prostitution by those means after initially consenting — is the most common form of modern slavery, according to Polaris, which operates a trafficking hotline in the U.S.
In the UAE, labor trafficking is more prevalent than sex trafficking, but, according to a State Department report, “Some women, predominantly from Eastern Europe, Central Asia, South and Southeast Asia, East Africa, Iraq, Iran, and Morocco, are subjected to forced prostitution in the UAE.”
McGeehan, the researcher at Human Rights Watch, told The Intercept that the country’s elite essentially operates under a different set of rules than the rest of society, particularly foreign workers.
“The only time they are called to account are when their abuses take place abroad. So, for example, you’ve got the case of the UAE ambassador to Ireland who was sued there for damages in 2014,” McGeehan said. “A UAE citizen who uses a prostitute in the UAE can probably expect to be treated lightly.”
Non-citizen residents of the UAE, however, receive harsh treatment for even minor violations. “A migrant worker who violates any law, whether it’s dropping litter or jaywalking, can expect the authorities to come down on them like a ton of bricks,” McGeehan said. He pointed to a 2006 case in which a woman testified she was gang raped. UAE courts convicted her of “adultery” and sentenced her to five years’ imprisonment, an additional five years of probation, 150 lashes, and then deportation.
These abuses were catalogued in a 2015 documentary that aired on BBC Arabic, “Pregnant and in Chains.” The film shows how migrant women in the UAE are routinely jailed for sexual relations — including being raped — and pregnancy outside of marriage, and subject to abuse in the country’s judicial system.
Construction workers stay at the Sonapur (or “city of gold” in Hindi) Labor Camps.Photo: Matilde Gattoni/Redux
ASCHAL HAD SEEN some of this behind-closed-doors sex work — in the privacy of Emirati homes — for himself. “I would tell my buddies about these stories, this stuff was larger than life,” said Paschal. But his friends prodded him into going public about the sex workers’ conditions. “‘Come on Roman,’” he recalled his friends saying. “‘Are you serious? You’re not going to say something?’ So, they kind of talked me into it.”
In May 2009, Paschal posted an essay on his blog about his experiences with Otaiba and other friends. “I became lost in life,” he wrote, citing a depression that led him to contemplate suicide. “I took on the characteristics of my benefactor. I aspired to $10,000-a-night prostitutes. We used to spend six to eight hours a day at gentlemen’s clubs in the U.S. and abroad, and like the person footing the bill, I too wanted to be ‘the man’ of the strip club.”
Paschal reached out to the Justice Department and met with U.S. Attorney Roy Austin, who handled human trafficking issues, in 2009. “I remember meeting with him, and I remember some pretty horrific allegations. I know I shared it with others in the office,” said Austin, who is now in private practice, adding that he couldn’t recall much else about the case. A few months later, Austin moved to the Justice Department’s Civil Rights Division. Paschal said he was trying to draw attention to the broader problem, an assertion Austin confirmed.
Paschal also approached local media in the Washington area. He spoke to Brian Karem, the executive editor of the Montgomery County Sentinel. Karem told The Intercept he remembered hearing from Paschal, and said he found his story credible but had no way to authenticate any of it. Still, he chased the tip as far as he could and reached out to the UAE embassy. Karem’s email was forwarded to Otaiba and later distributed by Global Leaks.
Karem’s note raised alarm throughout the UAE embassy, according to the stolen emails. Otaiba turned to a trusted friend to deal with it: Byron Fogan.
N MAY 28, 2009, the Montgomery County Sentinel published an article, titled “Local writer offers perspective on UAE deal.” Fogan quickly forwarded it to Otaiba, suggesting that the ambassador had dodged a bullet. Despite the headline, the piece focused on a U.S.-UAE nuclear deal and the tightening relationship between the two countries. Tucked at the bottom is a quote from Paschal, who is described as a “former confidante of Otaiba’s.”
“He is a man of his word and deeply committed to not only his work, but the representation of his country,” the paper quoted Paschal saying of Otaiba. Then the reporter added, “Still even Paschal says there are elements of society in the UAE that may cause an agreement some trouble.”
Paschal then offered another quote: “At first glance the UAE is reminiscent of a European style country set in the Middle East, but there is a sub culture of Arab society, in both Abu and Dabie [sic] enveloped in prostitution, human trafficking, and the defining of a person solely by their financial worth.”
Fogan, in the email to Otaiba, deemed it “not bad for us so far. We should, however, remain vigilant.”
The oddity of the story, Fogan wrote, could help them to later discredit Paschal if they needed to. (Otaiba did not respond to repeated, detailed requests for comment sent to his PR adviser Richard Mintz and to the embassy.) “Very strange piece that won’t get a lot of traction … and that will ultimately, down the road, corrode any chance of Roman asserting something seditious later,” Fogan offered, forecasting what could be a potential future strategy to combat Paschal’s allegations. “Sounds like Roman just waived a white flag.”
Otaiba then forwarded the note to Mintz. “This is all that came out,” Otaiba wrote.
In 2009, a local Washington-area newspaper quoted Paschal in a bizarre story about Otaiba.
Paschal did indeed drop his effort to bring attention to the human trafficking. He said he got a candid piece of advice from somebody at the FBI. “Listen, it’s women,” Paschal recalled the FBI official telling him. “To be honest with you, nobody cares. People care if it’s going to be written about, but if it’s not going to be written about, nobody cares about that stuff.”
Paschal concluded that if nobody cared, he wasn’t going to take the heat for it, so took the post off his blog. (I subsequently obtained a copy.) Paschal was not looking to tell his story this time around; he only spoke to The Intercept after we reached out to him through Karem, who had his contact information. He took several days before finally agreeing to speak.
N 2008, OTAIBA was elevated to ambassador, and as one of his first official acts, he created the nonprofit Oasis Foundation — a highly unusual step for a foreign diplomat. Court records describe Oasis as “a private foundation established by the UAE ambassador in connection with the work of the embassy of the UAE and as part of the ambassador’s mission to advance positive relations between the UAE, a significant American ally (particularly in the Middle East), and the United States.”
Otaiba then named Fogan both executive director of Oasis and a member of the charity’s three-person board. Fogan was put in the awkward position of overseeing his own activities as director.
Court records show how deeply entwined Fogan would become not just with Oasis, but also with the UAE’s embassy and his high-powered friend, ultimately holding three interrelated and overlapping jobs. Between 2007 and 2015, he sometimes concurrently held posts with the Oasis Foundation; the Harbour Group, a Washington public relations firm hired by the embassy; and the embassy itself, including as its legal counsel.
The close social and professional ties partly explain why, in 2016, Otaiba played such an unusually involved role throughout Fogan’s case. The UAE ambassador quietly lobbied the American criminal justice system with high-priced attorneys. In Fogan’s March 2016 sentencing memorandum, the court noted that the Oasis Foundation’s “founder and sole donor urged that [Fogan] not be prosecuted. That individual further urged in its victim statement that Mr. Fogan not be incarcerated.” Several of the court records were sealed — another anomaly in a case that tied Fogan to the unnamed founder.
The court referenced a letter sent by the ambassador to plea for leniency for Fogan, but the letter is not in the public record. “Despite the offense conduct,” the document said, “Mr. Fogan still remains in contact with the ambassador and has continued to provide advisory services to the embassy when requested.”
Fogan emails Otaiba with a lewd exclamation.
HE EMAILS DISTRIBUTED by Global Leaks show Otaiba could hardly claim ignorance of Fogan’s penchant for gambling, substance abuse, or even hiring sex workers. The year before Otaiba made Fogan executive director of Oasis, Fogan wrote to Otaiba, “I FUCK WHORES!!!! Tell Roman to get ready for a DANA trip!!!!” Otaiba prepped Paschal by quickly forwarding Fogan’s email.
It was a reference, Paschal said, to the Dana Hotel in Abu Dhabi, where he and Fogan had often picked up sex workers. Fogan and Paschal did visit the Dana on their trip, as promised, and, also as promised, brought two escorts back to the Abu Dhabi apartment Otaiba put them up in, Paschal said.
That night, however, was the end of the road for Paschal’s most lascivious partying days with Otaiba and company. Back in the apartment, he said, he had a fatigue-inspired epiphany. He pulled Fogan out to the balcony and offered him the second escort. “I’d been doing it for four years and my life was — I had just moved on,” Paschal said.
Back in Washington, he bumped into Otaiba and the crew at Sequoia, a tony bar on the Potomac River in Georgetown. “When they were leaving,” Paschal recalled, “he was like, ‘Alright, dude, we’re going back to the hotel. Come on, Roman.’ And I was like, ‘No, I’m good.’ And for him, that’s a huge insult. Huge insult. And I never heard from him again.”
Otaiba and his lawyer discuss missing funds from the Oasis Foundation.
OGAN WAS JUST getting started. In December 2013, Hamilton Loeb, one of the attorneys retained by the embassy to defend Fogan, wrote to Otaiba outlining the latest on Fogan’s money-laundering case. The authorities had said Fogan pilfered some $1.9 million from Oasis’s coffers. Loeb guessed that, since the UAE had deposited roughly $7 million in the foundation’s account, there should still be close to $5 million left, perhaps a little less, owing to some modest giving and operating expenses.
A month later, after Loeb gained access to the books, he had a more somber report. “The amount left in the Oasis accounts is less than $100k,” he wrote Otaiba. “I had expected considerably more.”
Otaiba’s lawyer tells the ambassador how much was missing from Oasis accounts.
If Otaiba was stunned that millions more had gone missing, he didn’t let on. Fogan wasn’t even fired from the Harbour Group or the embassy. Instead, the UAE diplomatic mission redoubled its efforts to support Fogan. Otaiba asked Loeb in an email if it was worth lobbying the State Department to lean on the Justice Department to go light on Fogan. Loeb advised strongly against it. The embassy nonetheless pushed prosecutors to say less than $1 million had been involved in the fraud. The U.S. attorneys rejected the effort.
Court records paint a portrait of a much bigger spend-down than was publicly reported. Documents show deposits of millions of dollars to Oasis accounts, which were by turns frozen or shut down for suspicious activity. As soon as one was shuttered, however, Fogan opened an account with a new bank. Oasis’s millions bounced between accounts at HSBC, PNC, and SunTrust. In one of the transfers, which occurred over two months, $3 million had disappeared.
In November 2011, according to the charging document, Fogan opened a checking account of his own — in Charles Town, West Virginia, home to the closest casino to Washington at the time. But prosecutors only publicly identified evidence of around $220,000 going from the Oasis accounts to Fogan personally. Fogan would be ordered by the court to pay that sum in restitution.
Fogan and Otaiba continued their revelry well past the time that court records said Fogan was spiraling out of control. In April 2012, Byron, Otaiba, now joined by his wife, and the rest of the gang, minus the retired Paschal, partied in the Caribbean for a crew member’s 40th birthday. Among the highlights were “Villas/rooms/Penthouses that actually outdid the Skylofts,” one of the friends emailed the group in a trip postmortem.
Apart from the court-ordered restitution, Otaiba was curiously incurious about what happened to the full $7 million, according to the vast amount of correspondence with his lawyer.
Finally, in July 2014, Mintz wrote to Otaiba saying that Fogan was leaving too much work undone at the Harbour Group. Otaiba agreed to allow Mintz to let him go. With Oasis shuttering and his Harbour Group job gone, Fogan was down to just one Otaiba-provided gig. He made a pitch to keep it. “I wish to remain on as lead advisor to the embassy, working from my office in Maryland and concentrating solely on legal work under our current agreement, without modification,” he wrote. “I think it would serve everyone’s best interests. Most importantly, it would serve yours.”
Otaiba let Fogan stay on as a legal adviser for the embassy until he began his sentence a year later.
Top photo: Ambassador Yousef Al Otaiba speaks during the 2011 East West Institute Dinner at the United Arab Emirates Embassy on October 13, 2011 in Washington, DC.
WAIT! BEFORE YOU GO on about your day, ask yourself: How likely is it that the story you just read would have been produced by a different news outlet if The Intercept hadn’t done it? Consider what the world of media would look like without The Intercept. Who would hold party elites accountable to the values they proclaim to have? How many covert wars, miscarriages of justice, and dystopian technologies would remain hidden if our reporters weren’t on the beat? The kind of reporting we do is essential to democracy, but it is not easy, cheap, or profitable. The Intercept is an independent nonprofit news outlet. We don’t have ads, so we depend on our members — 70,000 and counting — to help us hold the powerful to account. Joining is simple and doesn’t need to cost a lot: You can become a sustaining member for as little as $3 or $5 a month. That’s all it takes to support the journalism you rely on.