The arrest on Tuesday of a key Trump ally accused of illegally lobbying the United Arab Emirates shows just how much the oil-rich Middle Eastern country ingratiated itself with the United States during the Trump administration.

Between arms deals and diplomatic deals, the UAE, a relatively small spit of land between Saudi Arabia and the Persian Gulf, played an important role in former President Donald Trump’s policies in the region.

An indictment filed in New York federal court on Tuesday alleges that Tom Barrack, a longtime friend and business associate of Trump, worked for years to develop that relationship by secretly advancing the interests of the UAE through his influence on Trump’s 2016 presidential campaign and administration promoted.

Barrack, a 74-year-old private equity billionaire who was president of Trump’s founding fund in 2017, was arrested Tuesday morning in Los Angeles.

The seven-point indictment also accuses Barrack of obstructing the judiciary and making several false statements in an interview with federal authorities in 2019. The indictment also includes Matthew Grimes, 27, of Aspen, Colorado; and a 43 year old UAE citizen, Rashid Sultan Rashid Al Malik Alshahhi.

A judge ordered the arrest of Barrack and Grimes, with the bail hearing scheduled for Monday.

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“Mr. Barrack volunteered to help investigators from the start. He is not guilty and will plead not guilty,” a Barrack spokesman told CNBC in a statement.

The indictment states that Barrack advised American officials informally on Middle East policy and sought a leadership role in the US government, including serving as special envoy for the Middle East.

A Trump spokeswoman did not respond to CNBC’s request to comment on Barrack’s arrest.

The United Arab Emirates – an amalgamation of seven Arab monarchies with just under 10 million inhabitants – are home to several sovereign wealth funds such as the Abu Dhabi Investment Authority, which has a weight of almost 700 billion US dollars. According to the fund’s website, between 35% and 50% of the ADIA’s investments are parked in North America.

Barrack is not the first person in Trump’s circle whose ties to the United Arab Emirates have been put to the test.

While serving as an advisor to the United Arab Emirates, George Nader, who later pleaded guilty to indicting child sex and porn in a case that emerged from Special Counsel Robert Mueller’s Russia investigation, had $ 2.5 million Transferred to the Trump fundraiser Elliott Broidy, the Associated Press reported in 2018.

Nader paid the money to Broidy, sources told the AP, to fund efforts to convince Washington to harden its stance on Qatar, a U.S. ally but a bitter rival of the UAE.

The New York Times also reported in 2018, citing hundreds of pages of correspondence between the two men, a campaign by Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates to influence Trump’s White House.

Broidy pleaded guilty to a conspiracy to act as an unregistered foreign agent in October 2020.

A U.S. Air Force F-35 Lightning II Joint Strike Fighter approaches Eglin Air Force Base, Florida.

U.S. Air Force photo by Samuel King Jr.

A dealmaker

The United Arab Emirates, in which Trump established business relationships before taking office, established itself as an important partner of the United States in the region during the Trump administration.

The UAE signed the 2020 Abraham Agreement, which took steps to normalize diplomatic relations between Arab nations and Israel. The pact made the United Arab Emirates the first state on the Persian Gulf to normalize relations with Israel and the third Arab country after Egypt and Jordan.

Last November, then Secretary of State Mike Pompeo announced that the Trump administration would sell more than $ 23 billion worth of military equipment to the UAE “in recognition of our deepening relationship” and “in recognition of the nation’s need for advanced equipment Defense skills to deter and defend against ”. increased threats from Iran. “

In April, President Joe Biden’s administration reportedly notified Congress that it would continue selling weapons from the Trump era. The deal includes dozens of Lockheed Martin’s F-35 fighter jets, America’s most expensive weapons platform, as well as General Atomics-armed MQ-9 Reaper drones.

The United States, the world’s largest arms exporter, sends half of its arms to the Middle East, according to a report by the Stockholm International Peace Research Institute. Arms imports to the Middle East were 25% higher from 2016 to 2020 than from 2011 to 2015.

After Saudi Arabia and Qatar, the United Arab Emirates is the second largest buyer of US arms in the Middle East.

– Amanda Macias reported from Washington. Kevin Breuninger reported from New York.