Ilhan Omar and Jared Kushner’s Latest Accuser Has Shady Saudi Ties

Right-wing media has seized on the testimony of a Canadian businessman with a tangled history.

White House Chief of Staff John Kelly, back left, and White House advisor Jared Kushner, back right, stand with members of a Saudi delegation
White House Chief of Staff John Kelly, back left, and White House advisor Jared Kushner, back right, stand with members of a Saudi delegation in the Oval Office at the White House on March 20, 2018. Kevin Dietsch-Pool/Getty Images

A Canadian businessman who has become a useful agent for powerful royal families on the Arabian Peninsula has levied a slew of allegations against U.S. politicians, from Democratic Rep. Ilhan Omar to Republican President Donald Trump’s son-in-law Jared Kushner. While his claims remain unverified, they are rapidly spreading through Middle Eastern media and have become prominent on right-wing American sites.

Alan Bender, a Kuwait-born Canadian businessman, reportedly testified to a Florida court, via video feed from Toronto, that Qatar had successfully recruited an array of American assets to advance its interests in the West.

According to Bender, everyone from the star progressive congresswoman to Ivanka Trump’s husband was complicit in taking money and direction from Doha, on top of various newspaper reporters and politicians. The deposition was originally reported by the state-controlled Saudi news channel Al Arabiya, but it quickly spread through media outlets in the Middle East, as well as through right-wing U.S. blogs and news sites.

The deposition swings wildly from one story to the next, with Bender accusing the murdered journalist Jamal Khashoggi of being a spy for both Qatar and the Saudis, then alleging that Omar is a “Trojan horse” for Doha. Bender offered no factual basis for his claims, but they do line up with conspiracy theories that have been floating around the internet and right-wing press in recent years.

Bender went on to say that, for $5,000, the Qatari government is able to pay off journalists at the New York Times and Washington Post to kill critical stories—but journalists at the right-wing Washington Examiner, he said, won’t take the money.

Omar has strongly denied the claims. “Since the day she was elected, Saudi Arabian trolls and mouthpieces have targeted Omar with misinformation and conspiracy theories,” a spokesperson for Omar told the Jerusalem Post.

Bender has a record of unclear dealings with Middle Eastern powers. He first popped up in 2017 as a representative for Naela Alrasheed, an ex-wife of Saudi Prince Al-Waleed bin Talal. The Daily Mail reported that Bender had helped negotiate a divorce settlement for Alrasheed, and he came forward with allegations that the prince had abused his wife.

The Canadian claimed that Ty Cobb, a lawyer then representing Trump, was also involved in the legal dispute between the divorced couple.

That story was equally mired in skulduggery, with Cobb’s former law firm telling the Mail that “We believe there is a long track record of circulation or a combination of falsified or unverifiable documents to reporters and others about this case.”

Bender would pop up again later that year, when Al-Waleed bin Talal, one of Saudi Arabia’s richest businessmen, was arrested by authorities and detained in the infamous ad hoc prison in the Riyadh Ritz-Carlton. Bender was used by the Saudis to give evidence against the prince, Arab Digest reported at the time.

The BBC spoke with Bender in 2018, when he admitted to having read out a script of allegations against Al-Waleed bin Talal. “I would say my presence was to be used as, probably, evidence of details that they needed to confront him,” he told the BBC.

The detention, and possible torture, of hundreds of wealthy and influential Saudis in the luxury hotel was widely seen as a power grab by Saudi Crown Prince Mohammad bin Salman. Qatar, meanwhile, is in a long struggle against Saudi power, exemplified by the attempt in 2017 by the Saudis and their allies to blockade the country.

Bender’s most recent foray into politics was part of a discovery process for a lawsuit filed by two former staff members against Khalid bin Hamad Al Thani, a brother of the current emir of Qatar, mostly focusing on unfair labor practices. The lawsuit alleges Khalid bin Hamad was responsible for everything from kidnapping to ordering murders.

While the full deposition hasn’t been published—Florida courts do not release discovery material—someone is clearly sharing the transcript of Bender’s testimony in which he makes the accusations against U.S. political figures.

At this point, the sheikh has not even retained a lawyer and hasn’t filed any documents in response to the claim, which means Bender hasn’t been cross-examined, nor have his claims been tested in court.

The story has already popped up from some unexpected sources. The Australian cleric Mohamad Tawhidi, a self-proclaimed “imam of peace” (a title disputed on many fronts), has spent months railing against Omar. In July, however, just days after the civil case was filed in a Florida court, Tawhidi tweeted that a source confirmed that “a Congresswoman is communicating indirectly, through an individual, with Qatar.”

On Wednesday, Tawhidi tweeted screencaps of Bender’s deposition. In the four pages he released, Bender tells the court that he was the one recruiting Qatari agents.

It appears, based on legal letters tweeted by the self-styled imam, that Tawhidi is represented by the same lawyer as the pair suing Khalid bin Hamad—Rebecca Castaneda.

In September, Tawhidi tweeted an anonymous email supposedly sent to Castaneda, suggesting various questions be asked of Bender—including many lines of questioning around Omar. Many of those lines of questioning appeared in the transcript of the deposition, which runs some 200 pages.

The Daily Caller, another right-wing U.S. publication, also obtained copies of the deposition and concluded it didn’t have an air of credibility.

It’s not clear what any of this has to do with the unpaid overtime and emotional damages that the two bodyguards are seeking.

As the story unfolded on Wednesday, an array of odd players became involved. The Krassenstein brothers—Ed and Brian, who were banned from Twitter due to creating bogus accounts to amplify their trolling of the U.S. president—published a Facebook post alleging that Bender had contacted them with details of a plot to smear Omar.

According to the brothers’ story, Bender alleged Tawhidi was working with Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates to cook up the story. Somewhere along the way, Bender switched sides, the brothers say.

Omar has been a front line target for far-right accusations, including by Trump himself. These latest claims, already being eagerly reproduced by the U.S. right-wing, will add fuel to that fire—despite their dubious origins.

Justin Ling is a journalist based in Toronto.

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