12 Jan 2016

Former Qatari PM tries to quash Brit’s ‘torture’ claim

A court is set to decide if one of the world’s richest men can claim diplomatic immunity as he faces accusations of falsely imprisoning a British national for more than a year.

HBJ (Reuters)

Former Qatari Prime Minister Sheikh Hamad bin Jassim bin Jaber al-Thani is accused of falsely imprisoning a UK-born ex colleague for 15 months, in conditions amounting to torture.

But today lawyers for al-Thani, often referred to as “HBJ”, will argue the case should be dismissed as he is now a junior diplomat at the Qatari embassy, and therefore has diplomatic immunity.

HBJ also denies all the allegations.

The claims against him are being made by London-born Fawaz al-Attiya, the former spokesman for Qatar, who alleges he was imprisoned at the behest of HBJ after the pair fell out over a land deal in west Doha, according to court documents.

He is seeking damages of a significant, but undisclosed, amount.

Lawyers for HBJ, said: “Mr al-Attiya’s extremely serious allegations are, without exception, a combination of distortion, exaggeration and wholesale fabrication and the present claim is also wholly unsustainable on grounds relating to sovereign and diplomatic immunity.”

Today’s hearing will determine whether or not the full case can even be heard.

HBJ has been listed as a “minister-counsellor” serving at the Qatari embassy in London since November 2014, after standing down as Prime Minister of Qatar.

Under the Vienna Convention of 1961 this position would provide him with legal immunity.

However, lawyers for Mr al-Attiya claim HBJ has breached terms of the Vienna Convention by partaking in commercial activity for personal profit.

Last night, a spokesman for HBJ, said: “My client has at all times taken the greatest possible care to ensure that his personal interests and activities do not contradict his obligations as a diplomat.

“He has at no point either contravened Article 42 of the Vienna Convention or otherwise engaged in commercial activities in the UK which are inconsistent with his diplomatic role and status.”

HBJ with David Cameron in 2011 (Reuters)

Sheikh Hamad bin Jassim bin Jaber al-Thani has an estimated worth of more than £7bn.

It is alleged that a feud began after Mr al-Attiya refused to sell 20,000 square metres of valuable land in Al-Rayya in west Doha, he part owned to HBJ.

HBJ allegedly later obtained a “prohibitive order”, preventing the sale of the land. It was subsequently the subject of a compulsory purchase.

Mr al-Attiya claims that the value he received was vastly less than the true value of the land.

Court papers claim that a feud ensued, and in October 2009 Mr al-Attiya was “forcibly taken from Saudi Arabia to Qatar” and imprisoned against his will for 15 months.

Mr al-Attiya claims he was detained incommunicado, with “insufficient provision of food and/or water”, in “conditions that amount to torture and/or inhuman and/or degrading treatment”.

Lawyers for HBJ said: “Mr al-Attiya’s allegations are, without exception, a combination of distortion, exaggeration and wholesale fabrication. The actual matters to which they tenuously relate constituted sovereign acts on the part of the State of Qatar, effected in strict accordance with domestic and international law and were in no case personal acts on the part of HBJ; indeed, in the majority of instances HBJ had little or no involvement in the acts in question.

“The land in question was acquired by the State in strict accordance with the law and following procedures which mirror compulsory purchase processes familiar in the UK and other jurisdictions.”

They added: “Mr al-Attiya was neither ‘abducted’ nor ‘tortured’ and nor was any attempt made to abduct him; his claims to that effect are wholly untrue.”

Today’s hearing will determine whether or not HBJ is covered by diplomatic immunity.

If he is, Mr al-Attiya’s claim will not go any further.

A spokesman for the Foreign and Commonwealth Office, said: “We cannot comment on court matters or individual diplomats.”