- General Sultan bin Mohammed al-Naamani was largely responsible for the recent crackdown on protesters in Oman
- “People like him who run Oman have made it legal to steal the country’s wealth,” says Oman Center for Human Rights
- UK authorities did not ask how Mohammed got himself a luxury home
- Spotlight on Corruption says: “UK must not be a safe haven for those who plunder their country or commit human rights abuses”
- Oman’s dictatorship is the British government’s closest ally in the Gulf
General Sultan bin Mohammed al-Naamani paid former England and Chelsea football captain John Terry £ 16million for a lavish property in the UK, comprising nine bedrooms and a lake.
Now questions arise as to how Mohammed managed to afford the luxury home in 2014 while working as a government minister and spy chief in the repressive Gulf of Oman state.
Salaries of senior officials are not published in the secret sultanate, whose unelected rulers are known to reward loyal helpers with lavish gifts.
Last month, a wave of anti-corruption protests swept through Oman amid growing anger at ministers for living inflated lifestyles during an unemployment crisis.
Protesters called for Mohammed’s resignation, with the Omani Center for Human Rights saying he is known to have abused his authority.
Group chairman Nabhan al-Hanashi said Declassified: “[Mohammed] has so much power that he doesn’t need to justify his actions – whatever he does, it has the force of law and it cannot be held responsible. People like him who run Oman have made it legal to steal the country’s wealth. “
Another activist, speaking on condition of anonymity for security reasons, said: “All state institutions are run by a mafia gang. They eat the cake and keep the crumbs for us. Corruption is everywhere.
In a particular challenge to Mohammed, crowds of Omanis gathered one night in the town of Bidiya, near where he would own a vacation villa, carrying signs and chanting for the end of the corruption.
They were greeted by lines of armored vehicles and riot police squads in an intimidating show of force. In other towns in Oman, police fired British-made tear gas and dozens of activists were dragged from the streets.
Authorities have yet to admit the total number of arrests.
Mohammed was largely responsible for the crackdown on protesters as he headed Oman’s security and intelligence agencies as part of his role as Minister of the Royal Office.
Former British Foreign Secretary Alan Duncan called the Royal Oman office “vaguely similar” to MI6.
It is understood that he controls the foreign and internal intelligence agencies of Oman, making Mohammed ultimately responsible for the interrogation of the detainees by the dreaded Internal Security Service (ISS) of the country.
Several sources said Declassified that the detainees were only released by the ISS when they signed documents promising never to speak out again.
An activist who criticized the regime on social media told us: “The ISS called me to a police station and forced me to sign a pledge when I was coerced and threatened.
A protester, Ibrahim al-Balushi, went on a hunger strike while being held for a week in police custody last month.
Another man, Mushaal al-Mammari, said he was held in solitary confinement for three days, subjected to sleep deprivation and questioned for hours, before being brought to the prosecutor on charges that include participating in protests and messages found on his WhatsApp.
The advantage of work
Mohammed became Oman’s spy chief in 2011, when he was appointed Minister of the Royal Office by Sultan Qaboos following the Arab Spring protests.
After his takeover, the Gulf Center for Human Rights accused the ISS of torturing activists.
Among them was Khalfan al-Badwawi, who criticized the regime for spending money to fly horses from Oman in Queen Elizabeth’s Diamond Jubilee Competition at Windsor Castle in 2012.
Khalfan was charged with “insulting the sultan” and held in solitary confinement for a month by the ISS which subjected him to constant bright lights, loud music and extreme temperatures, prompting him to attempt to quit. commit suicide.
He was then released and applied for asylum in the UK in January 2014.
That same month, Mohammed bought John Terry’s White Lakes mansion in Oxshott, Surrey for £ 16million or Omani Rials 8.7million.
According to the World Bank, it would take around 1,600 years for the average Omani to make that much money.
Officials in Oman do not publish Mohammed’s salary except to say that he shares an annual pot of 18.9million rials (£ 34.8million) with 25 other ministers, several of whom are relatives of the sultan.
Media reports from 2014 describe Mohammed as having purchased the property in the name of the then absolute ruler of Oman, Sultan Qaboos. The sun said: “The Omani royal family wanted the house at all costs.”
“The Sultan’s most trusted aide just showed up and made an incredible offer” to John Terry, who took £ 10million from the sale. There is no indication that Terry knew or should have known the source of the funds used to purchase the property.
When Qaboos passed away last year after half a century in power, Mohammed carried his coffin and announced on state television who would succeed him.
However, ownership does not appear to have passed to the new sultan, Qaboos’ cousin, Haitham.
Land records show Mohammed remains and has always been the sole owner of the property, suggesting that it was owned by him since the initial purchase in 2014.
When Declassified visited White Lakes earlier this month, we saw a chef carrying a pet dog and welcoming delivery drivers, including a luxury caterer who apparently receives monthly orders.
Property staff confirmed that White Lakes was owned by Mohammed, but said he was in Oman and was not available for an interview on allegations of corruption or human rights violations.
A hand-delivered letter outlining our questions remained unanswered.
Under the so-called McMafia Orders, UK authorities can require foreign officials or “politically exposed persons” to explain how they purchased luxury homes in England. Those unable to respond to such inquiries risk having their property confiscated.
Yet so far prosecutors have only served unexplained makeshift orders to a handful of individuals and there will likely be strong resistance from the Foreign Office if such measures are considered against a close British ally like Mohammed.
He has frequent meetings with senior British officials such as Secretary of Defense Ben Wallace and Army Chief General Nick Carter.
A spokesperson for Spotlight on Corruption said Declassified: “The UK should not be a safe haven for those who plunder their country or commit human rights abuses. This necessitates an urgent investigation by UK law enforcement authorities and underscores the need for an examination of the weaknesses of the UK regime of unexplained heritage. “
Haves and have-nots
Oman’s elite are widely suspected of squandering the country’s dwindling oil wealth for lavish estates abroad.
The issue is set to become increasingly politically charged as electricity and water subsidies are cut as part of austerity measures designed to reduce Oman’s national debt, which has soared to 81 % of GDP.
The deficit is exacerbated by a large military budget – much of it devoted to British arms – which accounts for 27% of Oman’s public spending and costs nearly four times as much as subsidies, according to accounting firm KPMG.
In April, the government of Oman introduced a 5% sales tax in an attempt to diversify oil revenues and balance the books. It plans to be the first Gulf state to charge citizens an income tax, a move that could fuel demands for greater political representation.
All political parties are banned in Oman, and elections are held only for carefully selected independent candidates to sit on a helpless advisory board.
Journalists have been jailed for covering corruption and the country’s only independent newspaper, Al Zaman, was closed – in a movement, some activists blame Mohammed.
Through its £ 10million Gulf Strategy Fund, the British Foreign Office is supporting the Omani regime on economic reforms, “crisis management” and riot police training, which has not been provided anymore. late than February by officers from Northern Ireland.
Defense Minister James Heappey said there are around 230 British servicemen based in Oman – of whom around 90 are on loan to the Sultan’s forces – and that they are in “regular contact with the Omani authorities … to share ideas and experiences on all aspects. security, including response to protests ”.
The UK is also said to operate three secret intelligence bases in Oman, something it has never officially acknowledged. DM
Phil Miller is chief reporter at United Kingdom declassified, an investigative journalism organization that covers the UK’s role in the world.
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This notice was published: 2021-06-21 07:21:23