LONDON: Qatari state officials intimidated witnesses and claimants in a compensation claim brought by eight Syrian refugees against Doha Bank, the High Court in London was told on Wednesday.
The bank stands accused of helping handle finances from two clients, Qatari brothers Moutaz and Ramez Al-Khayyat, for the Al-Nusra Front, a jihadist group active in the Syrian conflict until 2017, when it merged with several others to become Hayat Tahrir Al-Sham (HTS).
The court was told that the brothers were acting on behalf of the Qatari state, possibly even the emir himself.
Doha Bank and the Al-Khayyat brothers deny any wrongdoing in the case brought by the Netherlands-based Syrians, who were able to bring action in the UK due to the bank having offices in London. The UK government has designated Al-Nusra and HTS as terrorist organizations.
Ben Emmerson QC, representing four of the refugees, accused Qatari officials of trying to “derail” the case.
“The administration of public justice in this country is under threat by the hostile act of a foreign nation,” he said.
Qatari officials were responsible for “harassment, intimidation, pressure, unlawful covert surveillance overseas, threatened visits by armed and masked men during the night, attempted bribery and criminal inducements,” he said, adding that the actions are believed to have been carried out on behalf of the state.
“The allegation in this case is that the Qatari state itself is responsible for funding (Al-Nusra) and has done so through the medium of the first two defendants (the Al-Khayyat brothers) and the companies they own, together with the accounts they hold at Doha Bank,” he said.
“The evidence suggests that the state of Qatar is engaged in a sustained campaign, sending multiple individuals to multiple locations over a long period of time, the object of which is to pervert the course of public justice in these proceedings, intimidate witnesses and to persuade the claimants to abandon their claim.”
UK counterterrorism police had been asked to investigate the accusations, Emmerson added. The claimants remain anonymous for security purposes.
Sonia Tolaney QC, representing Doha Bank, said there is a “real concern” that the claim is politically motivated.
“Qatar is a friendly foreign state to this country. This country should be careful before entertaining wild allegations about (Qatar) interfering in public justice,” she added.
A spokesperson for London’s Metropolitan Police said: “We can confirm that on Nov. 9 we received allegations relating to terrorism funding, perverting the course of justice and witness intimidation.
“These allegations are currently being scoped by officers from the Met’s counterterrorism command, with a view to determining whether there are grounds for a UK-based police investigation into these matters.”
Emmerson asked for a hearing into jurisdiction in the case to be delayed, with Doha Bank and other defendants saying it should be heard in Qatar.
Judge Rosalind Coe QC, summing up, agreed “reluctantly” to adjourn the case to allow for more evidence to be gathered in light of the severity of the allegations.