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South Carolina is becoming home to a quiet Qatari military aircraft project

South Carolina is becoming home to a quiet Qatari military aircraft project

The nation of Qatar, a tiny Gulf state known for its vast energy riches, tiny indigenous population, slave labor economy, and, of course, its troublesome connections to international terrorist organizations, has commenced a massive but under-the-radar spending spree in South Carolina. Through Barzan Aeronautical, a subsidiary of the Qatar defense ministry-controlled Barzan Holdings, Doha has targeted South Carolina as the location for a major military aircraft initiative. The state is home to several Qatar-friendly politicians and defense industry heavyweights.

Senator Lindsey Graham has held several face-to-face meetings with high-ranking delegations from the $320 billion Qatar Investment Authority (QIA), which has pledged to invest billions into the state. Over the past couple of years, Graham has emerged as one of the major pro-Qatar voices in the Senate. He routinely takes to television and other media platforms to repudiate Qatar’s regional adversaries, while bolstering its allies.

The top donor to South Carolina Gov. Henry McMaster’s recent successful gubernatorial campaign is a major Qatari lobbyist. Between 2017 and 2018, Imaad Zuberi, a lobbyist who represents the ultra-wealthy QIA, shelled out over $50,000 for McMaster’s campaign, according to campaign finance reports. Zuberi told associates that his donations to Republicans were a way to pay for further access to politicians, according to The New York Times.

On the local level, the mayor of Charleston, which is home to a major Boeing plant, is also a friend to the Gulf state. He has “signed a declaration of understanding to encourage economic development, cultural and environmental cooperation between Charleston and Doha, Qatar’s capital city,” after meeting with Qatari investment officials, The Post and Courier reported.

Charleston is home to Boeing’s 787 Dreamliner assembly plant. Qatar recently spent over $11 billion to order 30 787s and 10 777s from Boeing. Moreover, the Qatari air force has a $6.2 billion contract with Boeing.

The Qatar-run Barzan Holdings was launched March 12, 2018, intended to act as "a commercial gateway for the defense industry in Qatar.” One week later, a subsidiary company, Barzan Aeronautical, was incorporated in South Carolina. The aircraft program appears to be in the very early stages of development. Barzan Aeronautical’s website lists a target launch date of May 2019.

A promotional video from the Qatari ministry of defense showcases the ambition of the project:

In interviews, Qatari officials have stressed that the one-year-old Barzan Holdings project is a top-priority project for advancing Qatar’s defense goals. In November, the ruler of Qatar himself paid a visit to the Barzan research and development center.

Information on the nature of the mission of Barzan Aeronautical first surfaced in Foreign Agents Registration Act (FARA) filings last year through the Department of Justice. A high-powered K Street law firm, Ott, Bielitzki & O'Neill PLLC, defined the Barzan Aeronautical mission as a project dedicated to “development and production of surveillance aircraft” for Qatar. Just a couple of weeks ago (without any media coverage), Barzan Aeronautical submitted its own FARA filing, describing its mission as aiding “in procurement / development of airborne ISR [Intelligence, Surveillance, and Reconnaissance] systems for the foreign principal,” which is the state of Qatar.

In December 2018 and January 2019 alone, the foreign agents representing the Qatari aircraft project listed half a million dollars in lobbying expenses and revenue, according to the FARA filings. Moreover, in FARA disclosures, the K Street law firm noted it is being paid $75,000 per month for government relations services. It also reveals that an American is serving as the CEO of the front company and that its board of directors is a mix of Americans and Qataris. However, the company is 100 percent owned by the Qatar Ministry of Defence.

Barzan Holdings has quickly become a successful international advocate for Qatar’s defense industry, racking up tens of millions of dollars in mega-deals with various nations and their defense industries. Barzan has signed contracts with countless major defense and weapons companies in Turkey, France, Germany, Italy, and the United States.

At the 2018 Doha International Maritime Defense Exhibition and Conference (DIMDEX) in March, Qatar, through Barzan, scored deals with American defense industry giants such as Raytheon and Tapestry Solutions, a subsidiary of Boeing, both of which have a major presence in South Carolina. The mega-deal with the Boeing subsidiary was valued at $79 million.

Using its huge energy resources turned to wealth to promise statewide development, Qatar has racked up tremendous diplomatic and financial capital with the influential politicians and defense companies of South Carolina, enough that the al Qaeda and Hamas-funding state is apparently set to build military surveillance aircraft inside the continental United States.


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