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Mon 4 Jan 2016 12:00 PM

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Hilary Clinton refutes conflict of interest claims over husband’s speeches, Abu Dhabi airport visa pre-clearance

Newspaper report claims Bill Clinton was paid $1m for speeches in UAE while airport pre-clearance talks were ongoing

Hilary Clinton refutes conflict of interest claims over husband’s speeches, Abu Dhabi airport visa pre-clearance
Senator Hillary Rodham Clinton watches as her husband former President Bill Clinton gives a speech after being inducted into the National Voting Rights Museum Hall of Fame in March. (Getty Images - image for illustrative purposes only)

US presidential candidate Hilary Clinton has come under fire for alleged conflict of interest between speeches given by her husband in Abu Dhabi and state plans to introduce visa pre-clearance in the UAE for visitors to the US.

However, a spokesman for Clinton has denied a connection between the two matters, according to a report in the Wall Street Journal.

An analysis by the newspaper found that at least two dozen companies and one foreign government paid former US president Bill Clinton a total of more than $8 million to give speeches at around the same time they had matters in discussion with Mrs Clinton’s state department.

For example, the newspaper wrote, Mr Clinton earned $1 million for two speeches commissioned by the Abu Dhabi government while his wife was secretary of state.

His speeches in the UAE capital came during and after the US State Department and Department of Homeland Security were engaged in talks over plans to open a US-run ‘pre-clearance’ facility in Abu Dhabi airport to ease visa processing for travel to the US.

The facility, which eventually opened in 2014, allows all passengers travelling to the US from Abu Dhabi to clear US immigration in the UAE capital before boarding their flights.

On arrival in the US, passengers are treated as domestic arrivals and they do not need to go through passport control.

The US State Department supported the plans, called for by the UAE, despite opposition from unions, Congress members and others – including US airlines which have no direct flights between Abu Dhabi and the US and felt the new visa policy would give away business to UAE airlines.

The WSJ quoted Mrs Clinton’s spokesman as saying it was “a continuation of a Bush administration initiative to expand preclearance conducted abroad”, and that the Department of Homeland Security had led negotiations.

While the parties were working to draw up a letter of intent for the facility in 2011, Mr Clinton was reportedly invited by the Abu Dhabi Global Environmental Data Initiative – a group created by UAE president Sheikh Khalifa bin Zayed Al Nahyan – to give a speech in the UAE on climate change.

According to the newspaper, Mr Clinton sought permission from the US State Department’s ethics department, which reportedly said it had “no concerns” that the speech would infringe upon any foreign policy matters between the US and UAE.

US officials signed the letter of intent regarding visa pre-clearance in December 2011 and, one week later, Mr Clinton gave a speech on tourism to Abu Dhabi environmental officials, for which he was paid $500,000.

The following December, Mr Clinton sought approval for another speech in Abu Dhabi – this time the keynote speech on tourism before the World Travel and Tourism Council and sponsored by three Abu Dhabi government-owned tourism agencies, according to the WSJ. He was paid a further $500,000 for this appearance, it said.

One week later, the US and Abu Dhabi governments signed the final agreement for the pre-clearance facility.

The WSJ pointed out that at her confirmation hearing for secretary of state, Mrs Clinton promised to take “extraordinary steps... to avoid even the appearance of a conflict of interest”.

However, it quoted Mrs Clinton’s spokesman as saying it was “farcical” to suggest any connection between the speeches and the facility’s opening.

The newspaper said it analysed financial-disclosure forms, lobbying records and emails released by the State Department, and examined all speeches given or arranged while Mrs. Clinton was secretary of state.

It concluded that, in several instances, “State Department actions benefited those that paid Mr Clinton” – although it added that it found “no evidence that speaking fees were paid to the former president in exchange for any action by Mrs Clinton, now the front-runner for the Democratic presidential nomination.”

Mr. Clinton was paid for more than 200 speeches while Mrs. Clinton was secretary of state, according to the newspaper’s analysis.

It added that representatives of the Abu Dhabi government and other organisations involved either said there was no connection between the speaking fees they paid Mr Clinton for his appearances at their public events, or declined to comment.

US State Department spokesman Alec Gerlach said that not all activity at the department personally or substantially involves the secretary of state. “Her commitments did not equate to an indiscriminate prohibition on former President Clinton from working with any entity that interacted with the State Department, which would have encompassed an excessively broad range of companies, governments and NGOs [nongovernmental organizations],” he was quoted as saying.

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