From the Seychelles to the White House to Cambridge Analytica, Erik Prince and the UAE are key parts of the Trump story

Wendy Siegelman
Apr 9, 2018 · 14 min read
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In January 2017 Erik Prince attended a meeting in the Seychelles with the United Arab Emirate’s Crown Prince Mohammed bin Zayed Al-Nahyan, the CEO of the Russian Direct Investment Fund Kirill Dmitriev, and George Nader, a former consultant for Erik Prince’s company Blackwater.

While Erik Prince testified in November 2017 to the House Intelligence Committee that the meeting with Dmitriev was unplanned, news broke last week that Mueller has evidence that Prince’s meeting with Putin’s ally Dmitriev may not have been a chance encounter, contradicting Prince’s sworn testimony. And, according to George Nader, a main purpose of the meeting was to set up a communication channel between the Russian government and the incoming Trump administration.

Earlier this year, a seemingly unrelated scandal erupted after a story broke about Trump’s data company Cambridge Analytica harvesting Facebook data on tens of millions of people. Shortly after that a Channel 4 News investigation revealed undercover film of Cambridge Analytica executives bragging about the dirty tricks they use to influence elections.

As the Cambridge Analytica scandal was unfolding, I broke the story about a new company Emerdata Limited, created by Cambridge Analytica executives, that in early 2018 added new board members Rebekah and Jennifer Mercer, Cheng Peng, Chun Shun Ko Johnson, who is a business partner of Erik Prince, and Ahmed Al Khatib, a ‘Citizen of Seychelles’.

In 2017 as Cambridge Analytica executives created Emerdata, they were also working on behalf of the UAE through SCL Social, which had a $330,000 contract to run a social media campaign for the UAE against Qatar, featuring the theme #BoycottQatar. One of the Emerdata directors may have ties to the UAE and the company name, coincidentally, sounds like a play on Emirati-Data…Emerdata.

The United Arab Emirates and people advocating for the interests of the UAE — including Prince, Nader, and Trump fundraiser Elliot Broidy who has done large business deals with the UAE — have started to appear frequently in news related to Mueller’s investigation. Erik Prince, the brother of the U.S. Secretary of Education Betsy DeVos, lived in the UAE, attended the Seychelles meeting with the UAE’s Crown Prince Mohammed bin Zayed Al-Nahyan, is business partners with Chun Shun Ko who just joined the board of the new Cambridge Analytica/SCL company Emerdata, and SCL had a large contract to work on behalf of the UAE.

To better understand the role Erik Prince and the UAE have played in the Trump-Russia story — and in the much broader story of global political influence, and often corruption — below is a timeline tracking some key events. Not all events are related, but reviewing the information chronologically may help answer a few questions, including: Why was the UAE involved in a meeting with Erik Prince to set up a communication channel with Russia? Is the UAE involved with Cambridge Analytica’s new company Emerdata? Does Erik Prince have any connection to Cambridge Analytica, even if only indirectly through Chun Shun Ko, Steve Bannon, or the Mercers? And what role has the UAE had in influencing the Trump administration?

Note: this timeline may be updated periodically to include new pertinent information. Each event below includes the source data link. Name variations (e.g. Chun Shun Ko Johnson vs Johnson Ko Chun-shun) reflect how names are presented by each source.

2010

  • After a series of civil lawsuits, criminal charges and Congressional investigations against Erik Prince’s company Blackwater and its former executives, Prince moved to the United Arab Emirates. New York Times.

2011

  • A movie called “The Project,” about Erik Prince’s UAE-funded private army in Somalia, was paid for by the Moving Picture Institute where Rebekah Mercer is on the board of Trustees. Gawker Website

2012

2013

  • Starting in 2013, Donald Trump partnered with UAE developer Hussain Sajwani, also known as “the Donald of Dubai” to manage several golf courses built by Sajwani’s company Damac. Trump was paid $2 to $10 million before the golf courses opened. Sajwani offered to pay Trump an additional $2 billion to develop more properties. Later during the campaign Trump said he declined Sajwani’s offer, but it’s not known if his sons and the Trump Organization pursued the deal. New York Times

2014

  • January: Erik Prince’s business partner, Dorian Barak, became a Non-Executive Director of Reorient Group Limited, an investment company where Ko Chun Shun Johnson was Chairman and Executive Director, and had done a $350 million deal with Jack Ma. 2014 Annual Report Forbes
  • Erik Prince’s business partner Dorian Barak joined the board of Alufer Mining, “an independent mineral exploration and development company with significant bauxite interests in the Republic of Guinea.” (Prince would later testify that the purpose of his Seychelles trip was to discuss minerals and ‘bauxite’ with the UAE’s Mohammed bin Zayed). Alufer website
  • Donald Trump purchased his flagship Turnberry golf course in Scotland from a Dubai based UAE state-owned company, Leisurecorp, for less than they paid for it. Arabian Business
  • August: The John Bolton Super PAC founded by John Bolton, President Trump’s incoming national security adviser, hired Cambridge Analytica months after the firm was founded and while it was still harvesting Facebook data. In the two years that followed, Bolton’s super PAC spent nearly $1.2 million primarily for “survey research” and “behavioral microtargeting with psychographic messaging” using Facebook data. New York Times

2016

  • October: Erik Prince donated $100,000 to the Trump Victory fund and $33,400 to the Republican National Committee. FEC
  • October 11: Erik Prince did an interview with Breitbart News Daily describing Hillary Clinton’s “demonstrable links to Russia, particularly her complicity in “selling 20 percent of the United States’s uranium supply to a Russian state company.” Breitbart
  • November 4: Erik Prince told Breitbart News Daily that “The NYPD wanted to do a press conference announcing the warrants and the additional arrests they were making” in the Anthony Weiner investigation, but received “huge pushback” from the Justice Department.” Prince described criminal culpability in emails from Weiner’s laptop related to “money laundering, underage sex, pay-for-play.” Breitbart
  • December: The United Arab Emirate’s crown prince of Abu Dhabi, Sheikh Mohamed bin Zayed al-Nahyan, visited Trump Tower and met with Jared Kushner, Michael Flynn, and Steve Bannon. In an unusual breach of protocol, the Obama administration was not notified about the visit. Washington Post
  • Erik Prince told the House Intelligence Committee that Steve Bannon informed him about the December Trump Tower meeting with Mohamed bin Zayed al-Nahyan. Prince also said he had sent Bannon unsolicited policy papers during the campaign. CNN

2017

January 2017

  • January 11: A meeting was held in the Seychelles with Erik Prince, the UAE’s Crown Prince Mohammed bin Zayed Al-Nahyan, Kirill Dmitriev, and George Nader, who had previously consulted for Prince’s Blackwater. According to Nader the meeting was to discuss foreign policy and to establish a line of communication between the Russian government and the incoming Trump administration. ABC News

February 2017

March 2017

  • The largest funder of Secure America Now, a secretive group that creates anti-Muslim advertising, is Robert Mercer, who is also the largest funder of Cambridge Analytica. Open Secrets

April 2017

  • “Tom Barrack, a Trump friend who had suggested that Thani consider investing in the Kushner property, has said Charles Kushner was “crushed” when his son got the White House job because that prompted the Qataris to pull out.” Washington Post

May 2017

  • May 23: Per U.S. officials, the UAE government discussed plans to hack Qatar. Washington Post
  • May 24: Per U.S. officials, the UAE orchestrated the hack of Qatari government news and social media sites in order to post incendiary false quotes attributed to Qatar’s emir, Sheikh Tamim Bin Hamad al-Thani. Washington Post
  • Late May: Following the hack, Saudi Arabia, UAE, Bahrain and Egypt banned Qatari media, broke relations and declared a trade and diplomatic boycott. Washington Post

June 2017

  • June 6: Trump tweeted his support for the blockade against Qatar, while Rex Tillerson and James Mattis called for calm. The Guardian
  • June 7: U.S. investigators from the FBI, who sent a team to Doha to help the Qatari government investigate the alleged hacking incident, suspected Russian hackers planted the fake news behind the Qatar crisis. CNN
  • June 27: Rex Tillerson “reaffirmed his strong support for Kuwait’s efforts to mediate the dispute between Qatar and Saudi Arabia, the UAE, Bahrain, and Egypt” and “leaders reaffirmed the need for all parties to exercise restraint to allow for productive diplomatic discussions.” U.S. Department of State Readout
  • An aide to Tillerson was convinced Trump’s support for the UAE came from the UAE Ambassador Yousef Al Otaiba, a close friend of Jared Kushner, known to speak to Kushner on a weekly basis. The American Conservative

July 2017

  • July 21, 2017 — Nigel Oakes, the founder of SCL Group and director and person with significant control at SCL Insights, updates his ‘country of residence’ to United Arab Emirates. Company filing

August 2017

September 2017

October 2017

  • October 6: SCL Social Limited, part of SCL Group/Cambridge Analytica, was hired by UK company Project Associates for approximately $330,000 to implement a social media campaign for the UAE against Qatar, featuring the theme #BoycottQatar. FARA filing
  • October 23: Steve Bannon spoke at a Hudson Institute event on “Countering Violent Extremism: Qatar, Iran, and the Muslim Brotherhood,” and called the Qatar blockade “the single most important thing that’s happening in the world.” Bannon “bragged that president’s trip to Saudi Arabia in May gave the Saudis the gumption to lead a blockade against Doha.” The National Interest
  • October 29: Jared Kushner returned from an unannounced trip to Saudi Arabia to discuss Middle East peace. Tom Barrack, a longtime friend and close Trump confidant said “The key to solving (the Israel-Palestinian dispute) is Egypt. And the key to Egypt is Abu Dhabi and Saudi Arabia.” Politico

November 2017

  • November 15: Dmitry Rybolovlev sold his Leonardo Da Vinci painting ‘Salvatore Mundi’ for $450.3 million, setting a new record for the highest priced painting sold at auction. Rybolovlev — who had purchased a Florida home from Trump in 2008 for $95 million, more than $50 million above Trump’s purchase price — sold the Da Vinci painting for $322 million above his purchase price. The painting was bought by Saudi Prince Bader bin Abdullah on behalf of crown prince Mohammad Bin Salman. The price was driven up by a bidding war with the UAE’s Mohammed bin Zayed al-Nahyan, as both bidders feared losing the painting to the Qatari ruling family. After the purchase came under criticism, the Da Vinci painting was swapped with the UAE Ministry of Culture in exchange for an equally valued yacht. Daily Mail
  • November 20: Erik Prince testified before the U.S. House of Representatives Intelligence Committee and said that he arranged his trip to Seychelles with people who worked for Mohammed bin Zayed to discuss “security issues and mineral issues and even bauxite.” Prince then described how someone, maybe one of Mohammed bin Zayed’s brothers, told Prince he should meet with Kirill Dimitriev, describing him as “a Russian guy that we’ve done some business with in the past.” Erik Prince Transcript

December 2017

2018

January 2018

January to March 2018

  • SCL/Cambridge Analytica founder Nigel Oakes told Channel 4 News it was his understanding that Emerdata had been set up the prior year to acquire all of Cambridge Analytica and all of SCL. Channel 4 News
  • A website for a company called Coinagelabs.org displayed Cambridge Analytica as a partner. The team was led by CEO Sandy Peng, who previously worked at Reorient Capital, part of Reorient Group where Chun Shun Ko had been executive chairman. The site is no longer available. Twitter Thread

March 2018

  • March 19: Russia-friendly California representative Dana Rohrabacher, who has criticized the Magnitsky Act and who Prince had interned for in the 1990’s, attended a fundraiser hosted for him by Erik Prince and Oliver North, at Prince’s home in Virginia. The Intercept

April 2018

  • John Bolton is set to begin as Donald Trump’s new National Security Advisor, replacing Lt. Gen. H.R. McMaster, who had opposed Erik Prince’s plans to privatize the war in Afghanistan. Washington Post
  • Robert Mercer, the largest funder of Cambridge Analytica, has given $5 million to Bolton’s super PAC since 2013. He was the Bolton super PAC’s largest donor during the 2016 election cycle, and so far, is also the largest donor for the 2018 election cycle, according to federal campaign finance filings. The Center for Public Integrity
  • A source close to Erik Prince said, “now that McMaster will be replaced by neocon favorite John Bolton, and Tillerson with CIA director Mike Pompeo, who once ran an aerospace supplier, the dynamics have changed. Bolton’s selection, particularly, is “going to take us in a really positive direction.”” Forbes
  • According to an SEC filing, Kushner Companies appears to have reached a deal to buy out its partner, Vornado Realty Trust, in the troubled 666 Fifth Avenue property. The Kushners had previously negotiated unsuccessfully with Chinese company Anbang Insurance Group, whose chairman has since been prosecuted and regulators have seized control of the company. The Kushners also negotiated unsuccessfully with the former prime minister of Qatar, and shortly afterwards Qatar was hacked and blockaded by the UAE, Saudi Arabia, Bahrain and Egypt. It is not clear who will provide the financing for the deal. New York Times

2019


Photo credits: Mohammed bin Zayed Al Nahyan Erik Prince

Updated September 11, 2018: added Donald Trump partnered with UAE developer Hussain Sajwani to manage several UAE golf courses starting in 2013, Donald Trump purchased Scottish Turnberry golf resort from Dubai state-owned company in 2014, Nigel Oakes changed his country of residence to the UAE in July 2017.

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