Sex, diamonds & first class tickets: Naughty Olson in Pakistan

After a distinguished 34-year career within the State Department, Richard G. Olson Jr. officially retired in the year 2016, garnering commendation for his extensive diplomatic service, which encompassed significant roles such as the United States Ambassador to Pakistan and the United Arab Emirates.

Recent disclosures emerging in the courtroom have unveiled investigations into Mr. Olson, previously undisclosed. These investigations were conducted by the State Department’s inspector general and the Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI).

The probe by the State Department’s inspector general focused on Mr Olson’s failure to report a substantial gift of diamond jewellery valued at $60,000, which was presented to his mother-in-law by the Emir of Dubai. In a separate inquiry, the FBI questioned him regarding an extramarital affair with a journalist while he held the position of Ambassador to Pakistan in Islamabad.

Mr. Olson came under further scrutiny for orchestrating $25,000 in tuition payments to facilitate his girlfriend’s enrollment at Columbia University’s Graduate School of Journalism.

These funds were provided through the auspices of a Pakistani American businessman, who subsequently found himself incarcerated for illegal campaign contributions and tax-related offenses.

The complex intricacies of Mr. Olson’s personal life raised concerns surrounding the potential susceptibility to blackmail. During his tenure in Pakistan from 2012 to 2015, he was known to have maintained multiple relationships despite being married to another U.S. diplomat serving as the Ambassador to Libya.

At the age of 63, Mr. Olson entered a guilty plea to two misdemeanors. The first charge pertained to his failure to disclose the receipt of an $18,000 first-class airline ticket offered to him during a job interview while serving as the Ambassador to Pakistan. The second charge revolved around his engagement in unlawful lobbying activities on behalf of Qatar in 2017, post-retirement, which contravened federal law prohibiting such actions for a year following departure from the State Department.

Although Mr. Olson was not charged in connection with the matters concerning the diamond jewelry or tuition payments, the Department of Justice contends that these incidents underscored unethical conduct, as stated in court filings.

In accordance with federal sentencing guidelines, Mr. Olson may potentially face a prison term of up to six months. However, his legal counsel argues against imprisonment, highlighting his distinguished and honorable career. It is noteworthy that the Department of Justice has intensified its enforcement of laws pertaining to foreign influence in recent years.

The legal and personal challenges that have beset Mr. Olson commenced during his assumption of the ambassadorial role in Islamabad in 2012, a period characterized by strained relations between the United States and Pakistan following the Osama bin Laden raid and subsequent supply route closures.

During this tumultuous period, Mr. Olson was romantically involved with journalist Muna Habib, which led to complications in both his personal and professional life. Although their relationship ended in late 2014, they later rekindled their connection when Ms. Habib gained admission to Columbia University. Mr. Olson introduced her to a businessman who initially offered financial assistance but failed to follow through on a promised loan.

The State Department’s investigation into Mr. Olson’s receipt of diamond jewelry from the Emir of Dubai while serving at the U.S. Consulate in Dubai in 2014 raised questions. Mr. Olson contended that this was a gift intended for his mother-in-law. The investigations also encompassed his then-wife, Deborah Jones, although no charges were ultimately filed against her. She staunchly defended the legitimacy of the diamond gift and voiced criticism of the investigation as being offensive.

It is pertinent to note that Mr. Olson and Ms. Jones finalized their divorce in 2018, with Mr. Olson subsequently marrying Ms. Habib.

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