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Qatar-funded think tank moves to drop ‘lobbyist’ label

A US think tank funded by Qatar insists that it has changed its structure and mission and should no longer be considered an agent of the Gulf emirate.

The Qatar-America Institute (QAI) registered as a foreign agent of Qatar last month under pressure from the Department of Justice, Foreign Lobby Report first reported. The institute subsequently disclosed more than $6 million in grants from the Qatari government and drew further media attention over payments to get Qatari officials on conservative radio and bring GOP state officials to Doha.

“The new QAI leadership does not intend to engage in any activities requiring registration under FARA going forward.”

Qatar-America Institute

In a statement on Friday, however, the institute clarified that its registration under the Foreign Agents Registration Act (FARA) covers its activities from October 2017 (when it signed a $5 million gift agreement with the Qatari Embassy in Washington) until October 2019. As of last fall, the statement says, the institute acquired a new legal structure and new leadership.

“After changing its status to a 501(c)(3) nonprofit, QAI underwent a change of leadership and embarked on a new mission in October 2019,” the statement says. “The new QAI leadership does not intend to engage in any activities requiring registration under FARA going forward.”

The institute’s past chairman, former US Ambassador to Qatar Charles Untermeyer, stepped down last year. During his time as chairman, Untermeyer was paid $10,000 a month for his QAI work while also taking in another $5,000 a month as an adviser to the Embassy of Qatar on its expenditure of $30 million in Qatari aid to victims of Hurricane Harvey.

In September 2019, Untermeyer signed a $15,000-a-month contract with the Qatari Embassy in Washington. He is now working with the Qatari consulate in Houston on outreach efforts in Texas regarding trade and investment opportunities and cultural/academic exchanges.

Meanwhile Peggy Loar, a museum professional who was the founding director of the National Museum of Qatar in Doha, took over as chairwoman of the institute this March.

“Collectively, with the Institute‚Äôs luminary board of directors, talented staff, and you, it is my hope that we will lead QAI into an exciting future,” she said in a statement at the time. “[O]ne of celebrating the world of the arts and culture, and one of strengthening the personal and professional bonds between Americans and Qataris with an exciting array of programs in the arts, sports, cultural history, architecture, and design.”

While Untermeyer recently registered as a foreign agent for his time at the institute’s helm, Loar so far has not. Neither the institute nor Loar responded to requests for comment.