An entity reportedly aimed to publish or influence up to 100 articles annually on Abu Dhabi’s behalf, some of which were published via fake accounts
Leaked data has pointed to a network of influence in France acting on behalf of the United Arab Emirates to push information linking Qatar to the Muslim Brotherhood, according to French media.
The revelation was highlighted in a report by French investigative outlet Mediapart on Wednesday, which dissected the possible Emirati influence in Paris in an apparent misinformation campaign against Qatar.
In its key finding, the French outlet found that the UAE network was coordinated by Swiss-based economic intelligence company, Alp Services, founded by Mario Brero.
The information was transmitted to an Emirati intelligence agent, whom the report named “Mohammed”.
The network was reportedly behind the publishing of the English and Arabic edition of the book “Qatar Papers”, which falsely accused Qatar of financing Muslim associations in Europe. The book was published by journalists Christian Chesnot, who works at Radio France, and Georges Malbrunot, who works with Le Figaro.
The publication was released at the height of the Gulf Cooperation Council crisis, which was triggered in 2017 when Saudi Arabia, the UAE, Bahrain, and Egypt severed diplomatic ties with Qatar.
At the time of the region’s worst dispute, which came to an end in 2021, the quartet imposed an illegal air, land and sea blockade on Qatar, accusing it of backing the Muslim Brotherhood.
“The objective is also to influence the press and publish false articles attacking Qatar and the movements linked to the Muslim Brotherhood, supported by the media and financially by the gas emirate,” the report said.
Communications were mainly carried out between what Mediapart described as “two anonymous six-digit addresses” through the encrypted email service Protonmail. The first was for Alp and the second under the Emirati agent, that it labelled as “[email protected].”
Mediapart said Alp’s lawyers, Christian Lüscher and Yoann Lambert, gave the publication a formal notice to “destroy all data” linked to their client. It also told the French outlet to “refrain from any dissemination of information obtained through the commission of illicit acts”.
In November 2018, Brero allegedly had a “one-to-one” dinner with the so-called UAE secret agent, the French outlet added, citing a leaked text message. Mohammed has aso “entrusted” Brero with three “important mandates for a total of… €1 million”.
“One of the contracts provided for Alp to carry out in-depth investigations into Qatar’s ‘networks of influence’ and ‘lobbyists, influencers and journalists’ in the European Union,” the report said.
Meanwhile, Avisa Partners and lobbyist Sihem Souid provided Mediapart with documents and photos that pointed back to the UAE secret agent.
Souid, a communicator and lobbyist for Qatar in France, was also made a target of the network. Alp services proposed to its Emirati client that it would look into her to find “negative information” about her and her husband.
One document stated that Alp intended “to counter Qatar’s lobbying actions at the level of the European Union”.
“In its proposal to the UAE, Mario Brero’s Swiss agency also plans ‘counter-lobbying’ actions against Qatar, including disseminating anti-Qatar information to ‘friendly politicians’ and preparing cases for legal action,” the report added.
Alp reportedly aimed to publish or influence up to 100 articles annually on Abu Dhabi’s behalf, some of which were published via fake accounts, most prominently the Club de Mediapart under the pseudonym of “Tanya Klein”.
Klein had published 15 posts between 2018 and 2021 against Qatar and the Muslim Brotherhood.
One article allegedly published by Alp on the Belgian website Histoiresroyales.fr, entailed accusations of murder and torture against a member of the Qatari royal family.
“Dear friend, here is the article we have just published on the [His Highness Sheikh Tamim bin Hamad Al Thani, Amir of the State of Qatar]’s brother,” Alp wrote to his handler, as quoted by Mediapart.
However, Nicolas Fontaine, editor of Histoiresroyales.fr. denied carrying out such sponsored publication, saying the Qatar article was based on “three sources”.
Employment of journalist
Another notable name raised in the investigation is French journalist of Algerian origin Atmane Tazaghart, also a former editor-in-chief of the Arabic-language newsroom of the France 24 television channel.
According to Mediapart, Tazaghart was fired in 2016 for problematic comments made on a pro-Iran Lebanese television station.
Tazaghart then wrote critical articles about Qatar “under the direction” of Abdelrahim Ali, a person with close links to Egypt’s President Abdel Fattah al-Sisi and Egyptian Member of Parliament.
Tazaghart reportedly emailed the UAE agent that he “succeeded in gathering” information on former French prime minister, François Fillon’s alleged financial links with Qatar.
“When contacted by Mediapart, the former France 24 journalist was indignant that we had obtained emails that he said were the result of hacking, which he attributed to an individual close to the Muslim Brotherhood,” the report said.
Tazagahart told Mediapart that he does not know the UAE agent and denied the labelling of the email over Fillon as “an intelligence work”, maintaining it was a mere “summary memo” requested by the Emirati research centre, Trends Research and Advisory.
He was also found in connection with Chesnot and Malbrunot, who published a book accusing Qatar Charity of financing projects linked to the Muslim Brotherhood.
“Shortly after publication, Atmane Tazaghart contacted Michel Lafon, and concluded a contract with the publisher, in June 2019, to buy the rights to the book with a view to publishing translations in Arabic and English,” the report said.
Tazaghart also denied funding the book and said he had signed “on the basis of a power of attorney” on behalf of the British company Countries Reports Publishing.
Asked where the money used to finance the book came from, Malbrunot said: “You’d have to ask, but I imagine that they are people from Dubai or Abu Dhabi.”
Chesnot added,”With Georges, we were not necessarily fooled, because we knew that it was probably money from the UAE, or even from Saudi Arabia.”
“We are not naïve, we have been covering this region for thirty-five years, information hostile to a country is exploited by its enemy […] This did not pose a problem for us, as long as the translations were accurate and there was no distortion of the information,” Malbrunot explained.
The latest report echoes findings from other investigations looking into the UAE’s lobbying in France.
Last year, an investigation by Orient XXI found that the UAE was “discreetly” lobbying a key partner in France in an effort to present Qatar in a negative light.
The probe had also outlined the UAE’s push to promote Qatar’s alleged links to the Muslim Brotherhood, regularly accusing it of financing the group and also associating the movement “with terrorism” as part of its “cognitive war.”