If you’ve ever considered doing business in Qatar—and particularly with those who have connections to its royal family—you may want to think twice.
As Qatar’s political influence grows in the United States, from the Brookings institution to Al Jazeera, can the Qatari regime be held accountable for wrongdoings it commits against American citizens? In other words, what are the practical hurdles to having your day in court, if you’re seeking damages from an emir or his immediate family?
A recent lawsuit filed in federal court in Florida reveals the challenges of Americans holding those in positions of power accountable in the monarchies of the Middle East, particularly if these happen to be part of the Al Thani family, which has ruled the tiny Gulf emirate since 1825.
The lawsuit provides a window into the impossibility of serving foreign nationals who occupy positions of power abroad. Two Americans who had been employed as a bodyguard and a paramedic for a Qatari sheik filed a complaint against their former boss, alleging violations of the Fair Labor Standards Act, the Florida Labor Law, the Florida Constitution, and the California Labor Code. The complaint details the alleged abuses suffered by the plaintiffs at the hands of Sheik Khalid Bin Hamad Bin Khalifa Al Thani, the brother of the current ruler of Qatar.
According to the complaint, one plaintiff, Matthew Pittard, was solicited by the sheik to kill two individuals, a request he adamantly refused. Pittard later came to the aid of two American citizens the sheik was allegedly holding captive in his residence for several days in July, as noted in the complaint:
During Pittard’s period of employment, from approximately July 7-10, 2018, Defendant Khalid and his private Qatari security staff held an American citizen against the American citizen’s will on at least two occasions in one of Defendant Khalid’s personal residences. At Defendant Khalid’s request, the American citizen was arrested and jailed at the Onaiza Police Station in Doha, Qatar. Pittard and the United States Embassy came to the aide of the American citizen, and helped the American citizen reach a point of safety, and eventually safely depart from the country of Qatar.
After the sheik learned of Pittard’s role in liberating the captive, the sheik allegedly told Pittard he would kill both him and his family. Pittard alleges he was then kept against his will by the sheik’s security forces, stripped of his electronic devices, fired from his job, and forced to pen new employment documents while a Glock 26 firearm hung above his head.