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Saturday December 15th, 2018 7:12AM

Qatari man in basketball lawsuit gets diplomatic immunity

By The Associated Press

WASHINGTON (AP) — A Qatari investor who once met with Donald Trump's presidential transition team has been given "full immunity from all aspects of civil litigation" after a lawsuit accused him of stiffing fellow investors in rapper Ice Cube's 3-on-3 pro basketball league.

The U.S. State Department recognized Ahmed al-Rumaihi's diplomatic status in September, according to documents related the lawsuit that were filed Tuesday in U.S. District Court for the Central District of California.

Ice Cube and Hollywood executive Jeff Kwatinetz say the Qatari investor did not honor several million dollars in financial commitments to BIG3 Basketball LLC.

The circumstances of al-Rumaihi's diplomatic status remain unclear. The State Department lists al-Rumaihi as an attache for Qatar. Tuesday's filing describes al-Rumaihi as Qatar's commercial attache for investment.

But Qatar's media attache in Washington, Jassim al-Thani, earlier this year told The Associated Press that since March 2017, "Mr. al-Rumaihi has not represented the State of Qatar in official matters. Nor is Qatar involved in any of his private business matters." Al-Thani did not respond Wednesday to a request for comment on al-Rumaihi's current status.

Lawyers for the league say al-Rumaihi left his Los Angeles home for Qatar months ago to avoid his deposition in a case that has involved allegations that he attempted to use his league connections to gain access to President Donald Trump through Steve Bannon, who was chief strategist at the White House at the time.

Ice Cube on Wednesday tweeted a link to a news story about the filing, adding: "America First? Yeah right."

A representative for al-Rumaihi did not immediately respond to requests for comment.

TV images showed al-Rumaihi alongside Qatar's foreign minister when he visited Trump's transition officials at Trump Tower on Dec. 12, 2016. Al-Rumaihi was part of the Qatari delegation that was greeted by Trump attorney Michel Cohen in the Trump Tower lobby before entering an elevator.

Al-Thani said al-Rumaihi accompanied the foreign minister to Trump Tower but "did not participate in any meetings."

A spokeswoman for al-Rumaihi told the AP earlier this year that al-Rumaihi and Cohen had met to discuss potential Qatari investments in U.S. infrastructure while al-Rumaihi was head of Qatar Investments, a division of the Qatar Investment Authority.

"Mr. Cohen stated he would require a $1 million fee for his services. At no point did Mr. al-Rumaihi or anyone else from Qatar Investments pay the requested fee, nor did Mr. al-Rumaihi ever entertain making such a payment," the spokeswoman's statement said.

A representative for Cohen did not immediately return a request for comment Wednesday.

Kwatinetz, Bannon's former business partner, in a sworn declaration in the basketball lawsuit earlier this year describes being invited on a hike in January with al-Rumaihi.

"Mr. al-Rumaihi stated to me that he wanted to convey a message from the Qatari Government to Steve Bannon," Kwatinetz stated in the document. "Mr. al-Rumaihi requested I set up a meeting between him, the Qatari government and Steven Bannon, and to tell Steve Bannon that Qatar would underwrite all of his political efforts in return for his support."

Kwatinetz said in the sworn statement he immediately rebuffed the request, offended, and said neither he nor Bannon would ever take or entertain such a bribe.

"Mr. al-Rumaihi laughed and then stated to me that I shouldn't be naïve, that so many Washington politicians take our money, and stated 'do you think (former Trump adviser Michael) Flynn turned down our money?'," Kwatinetz said in the declaration.

An attorney for Flynn did not immediately return a request for comment.

Qatar is one of the biggest spenders in Washington's influence industry and has been on a massive spending spree aimed at winning over hearts and minds in the U.S. since last year, when its neighbors tried to isolate the country.

Saudi Arabia, the United Arab Emirates and its other neighbors cut diplomatic ties and in June 2017 began a blockade of Qatar over claims the small, gas-rich monarchy was funding terrorism and disrupting Gulf unity.

___

Suderman reported from Richmond, Virginia. Follow Tami Abdollah on Twitter at https://twitter.com/latams

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