By WND Staff
The Kingdom of Morocco’s attempt to protect a former U.N. diplomat who is being sued for an alleged role in a global Qatari hacking operation that targeted a major fundraiser for President Trump is raising concern in national security circles.
The fear is that the case will establish a precedent for the abuse of diplomatic immunity status.
Morocco’s government is attempting to assist Moroccan national Jamal Benomar, who had a 25-year U.N. career and last served as special adviser to U.N. Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon for conflict prevention.
Benomar is seeking diplomatic immunity to shield himself from a lawsuit alleging his involvement in a sophisticated Qatari cyber-attack against former Republican National Committee finance chairman and Qatar critic Elliott Broidy.
Broidy claims Benomar orchestrated the dissemination to the media of his stolen emails and other documents to damage the Republican fundraiser’s reputation.
If true, the allegations would place Benomar at the center of a purported Qatari hacking campaign that targeted more than 1,000 people in several countries from 2014 to 2018. The operation’s alleged targets also included a former CIA official, a Democratic Party operative and a “range [of victims] from Syrian human rights activists to Egyptian soccer players,” according to Bloomberg.
Although no evidence of current or past diplomatic work performed by Benomar for Morocco was apparent, Marrakesh has claimed Benomar is a “Minister Plenipotentiary” at the Moroccan Mission to the U.N. Two individuals with knowledge of the situation say Benomar is currently in Morocco for high-level government meetings.
Morocco’s assertion came as the former U.N. official’s attorney, Abbe Lowell of Winston & Strawn LLP, wrote in a letter to a U.S. district court that Benomar’s alleged diplomatic status makes him “immune from jurisdiction for actions performed in the course of his duties.”
According to Lowell, since Benomar “specifically counseled Qatar at the request of his home government of Morocco, Mr. Benomar enjoys derivative sovereign immunity not only based on Qatar’s immunity as a sovereign, but on Morocco’s immunity as a sovereign as well.”
“Consequently, this court lacks subject matter jurisdiction, and the case must be dismissed, because the alleged actions of Mr. Benomar are protected under derivative sovereign immunity,” Lowell said.
Lee Wolosky, an attorney for Broidy, said Benomar’s argument contains “fatal flaws.”
“To date, the U.S. government has not agreed to extend diplomatic immunity to [Benomar],” Wolosky wrote in a letter to the U.S. District Court for the Southern District of New York.
He explained that “according to the United Nations, the Moroccan Mission to the U.N. retained Defendant as a consultant or advisor on August 1, 2018 – after the July 23, 2018, filing of this lawsuit.”
A former U.S. national security official who requested anonymity called Benomar’s diplomatic immunity request a “fraudulent effort” and said Morocco’s “support for Benomar’s tactics is nothing but a desperate scramble to protect one of its high-profile citizens, carried out with shocking disregard for this move’s potential implications for Morocco’s relationship with the U.S. as well as its standing in the international community.”
Morocco’s effort to protect Benomar, added the official, “sets a dangerous precedent at the U.N., by providing other nations with the de facto playbook on misusing and abusing diplomatic immunity status.”
“It’s quite puzzling that the Moroccans would choose to risk their relationship with the United States by becoming involved in this dispute in which Qatar hacked prominent U.S. citizen,” the official said.
Benomar retired from the U.N. in 2017, after which he became an adviser for the Qatari government. After Broidy’s lawsuit was filed in July 2018, Benomar, who lives in Westchester County, New York, with his family – all of whom are U.S. citizens – arranged to have Morocco try to accredit him to the Moroccan Mission to the U.N.
On Aug. 1, the Moroccan Mission submitted paperwork for Benomar, but the U.S. Mission to the U.N. issued Benomar a green-bordered, state-issued identity card recognizing only limited “official acts” immunity, which would not protect him from Broidy’s lawsuit.
The Moroccan Mission objected, saying Benomar should be accorded full “status immunity” and receive a blue-bordered state-issued identity card. The U.S. Mission to the U.N. declined, stating that there was no information about his diplomatic rank or proof that he met U.S. requirements for full diplomatic immunity.
Then, on Sept. 21, the Moroccan government notified the State Department that Benomar was a “Minister Plenipotentiary.” The U.N. Bluebook has been updated in October to reflect this status.
The appointment appears to violate the U.S. Mission’s established criteria for affording an individual the type of full status immunity that Benomar is claiming. In HC-01-16, the Mission states that diplomatic privileges and immunities “will be conferred only with respect to categories of individuals who will represent their countries before the United Nations as their primary function in the United States.”
The diplomatic note set specific criteria for an individual to receive privileges and immunities, and possession of a diplomatic title such as Minister Plenipotentiary was just one of the criteria. The individual must also “perform on behalf of the member State, diplomatic duties directly related to the work of the United Nations on a full-time basis, which the Department of State describes as at least thirty-five hours each week at the Mission, and shall not practice for profit any professional or commercial activity in the United States,” according to the criteria.
No evidence proving that Benomar has met these criteria appears to exist.
The former national security official said U.S. bodies that deal with U.N. affairs – such as the Bureau of International Organization Affairs, the Office of Foreign Missions and the Legal Adviser’s Office – are “failing to understand the importance of the State Department taking action to protect American citizens from such false assertions of diplomatic immunity that provide sanctuary to foreign nationals that might harm U.S. citizens.”
Specifically, the official called on U.S. Ambassador to the U.N. Nikki Haley to “reject Benomar’s fraudulent accreditation attempt.”
The U.S. Mission to the U.N. did not immediately return a request for comment.