GENEVA (AP) — An influential Olympic official accused of forgery in an alleged plot that implicated political rivals in Kuwait in a coup attempt had his trial open on Monday.
Sheikh Ahmad al-Fahad al-Sabah was publicly sidelined as an IOC member and president of the global group of national Olympic bodies, known as ANOC, after he was indicted in November 2018.
Long known as the kingmaker of Olympic elections, Sheikh Ahmad’s influence grew when winning the ANOC leadership election in 2012 and a year later he was an ally helping Thomas Bach win the IOC presidency.
The sheikh attended court on Monday alongside three of the other four defendants: A Kuwaiti former aide and Geneva-based lawyers from Bulgaria and Ukraine. A fifth defendant, an English lawyer, was not in court.
They face charges relating to arranging an arbitration case in Geneva in 2014 to authenticate video evidence that was allegedly manipulated.
Prosecutors in Geneva — a hub for international arbitration cases — accused Sheikh Ahmad of being key to staging a false hearing to create the impression that video footage circulating on social media was genuine.
If proven authentic, the video would have implicated a former prime minister of Kuwait, Sheikh Nasser al-Sabah, in financial and political wrongdoing.
Sheikh Ahmad denied wrongdoing ahead of a trial postponed in February that is now scheduled for seven days at Geneva’s Tribunal Correctionnel.
The verdict of three judges is expected Friday week and the defendants face jail sentences of up to five years.
The trial opened six years after a criminal complaint was filed on behalf of Sheikh Nasser, the former prime minister, and Jassim al-Kharafi, the former speaker of the Kuwaiti parliament, who has since died.
The disputed footage appeared to show the two men plotting to overthrow the then-emir of the oil-rich kingdom.
Prosecutors described in their indictment “accusations of corruption and treason in particular which could have led to the death penalty” for the two men.
Prosecutor Stéphane Grodecki said in court the focus of the case was on the alleged faked elements of the arbitration hearing and ruling, and not the authenticity of the video footage.
The first defendant questioned was Hamad al-Haroun, described in the indictment document as a former trusted aide to Sheikh Ahmad.
Al-Haroun confirmed he previously worked with a member of the Al-Kharafi family, and met Sheikh Nasser who at one time was his father’s boss.
The presiding judge’s opening questions to Al-Haroun focused on how many people had access to an email account that appeared to be controlled by him.
At one point, Al-Haroun grew agitated when shown Whatsapp messages from 2014 alleged to come from a telephone number from the United Kingdom registered in his name.
“Where is the source?” he said in English while holding up the printed document. After a break in the trial, he later cited a different person to whom the number was registered.
There were further testy exchanges in judges’ questioning about Al-Haroun’s links to a company called Trekell Group alleged to have taken part in the suspect arbitration process.
The case is being conducted in French with translation into English and Arabic for Al-Haroun and Arabic for Sheikh Ahmad, who could be questioned on Tuesday when the trial resumes.
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