Secret spin operation in Berlin: Inside the intelligence peddlers' web
An ex-spy, a dossier of politically explosive material and a bigshot lobbyist – all three are part of an intricate tale of espionage set in the heart of Berlin.
Berlin-On a day in spring 2020, lobbyist Michael Inacker meets a man in his office whom he's known for a while. His visitor goes by Jason G., an alias. As it appears, G. is working as a contractor for western intelligence services. Inacker apparently considers him a business partner, possibly someone who could open up lucrative business opportunities. Jason G. ends up using the information obtained during that meeting against his interlocutor.
Michael Inacker is the chairman of WMP, widely considered to be Germany's most influential lobbying and PR firm. Its supervisory board boasts names such as Eckhard Cordes, former boss of the Metro Group, Wendelin Wiedeking, ex-CEO of Porsche and Hans-Hermann Tiedje, former editor-in-chief of Germany's biggest tabloid Bild. Inacker, a PR heavyweight with high-level ties in politics, presumably did not anticipate the trouble the meeting with Jason G. would get him into.
The conversation was reportedly about a deal concerning a secret dossier that could heavily incriminate Qatar: According to the documents, the Gulf emirate was allegedly aiding Hezbollah, a militant Islamist group that is considered a terror organisation in many countries including Germany.
According to Berliner Zeitung’s sources, the conversation between the two men was about an ominous agreement: High-ranking security officials in Qatar allegedly held out the prospect of €750,000 if the information were not to come to light. As it appears, Inacker wanted to help to that purpose. However, he denies any involvement.
The weekly newspaper Die Zeit also reported on the sensitive dossier – and found that Inacker played a role in the affair. So, did he get caught red-handed in a sting operation targeting Qatar, an undercover secret service investigation, right in Berlin? That's Jason G.’s version of the events, according to which the intelligence services of several western countries were involved. Inacker denies all allegations and has expressed his doubts over the authenticity of the documents and sources. A lawyer replying to the questions of Berliner Zeitung on behalf of the company WMP EuroCom AG states ‘our client has in no way taken part in covering up any collusion of Qatari institutions or persons and Hezbollah.’”
Berliner Zeitung has obtained supporting documents on the content and progress of the conversation, as well as further papers and agreements. Taken altogether, they suggest that Qatari state officials were prepared to pay money for the disappearance of the incriminating files.
According to Zeit, Jason G. is a private contractor working for various security and intelligence services. According to Berliner Zeitung’s information, he was a member of the staff of one of the most powerful western secret services for 16 years.
He appears to be extremely well informed about the Middle East. Between 2016 and 2017, he reportedly worked as an undercover agent in Qatar, focusing on illegal arms trade and the financing of terror organisations and militant Islamist groups. If what G. says is true, a source within the Qatari security apparatus gave him access to classified information.
Berliner Zeitung has seen extracts of the dossier. As Jason G. maintains, it contains evidence proving that Qatar has supported Hezbollah with money and arms shipments. The emirate is a preferred partner in the Gulf region for many Western countries and host of the 2022 soccer World Cup. However, the small, rich state has also been subject to criticism for its possible ties to Islamist groups. If evidence were to surface that the emirate has indeed been supporting Hezbollah, it could face sanctions.
Hezbollah, a powerful force in Lebanon that participates in the government in Beirut, is listed as terror organisation by many countries. In Germany, its political wing was banned only a few months ago. Its militant wing has been considered illegal for years. At the end of April, the police in Berlin and other states raided mosques that were allegedly linked to the “Party of God”.
The government in Doha has not reacted to the questions of Berliner Zeitung. The Qatari embassy in Berlin denied the allegations without giving details: “Qatar plays a central role in international efforts to combat terrorism and extremism in the Middle East,” stated an official from the ambassador's office in Berlin, “We have strict laws in place to prevent and monitor terror financing by private individuals. Anyone found to be participating in illegal activity is prosecuted and punished to the full extent of the law.”
The content of the dossier does indeed sound explosive. However, the story revolving around the material is highly complex, and the interests of the people involved are not entirely clear. For certain is that pressure has been mounting on Michael Inacker as Stern magazine and Jerusalem Post have also reported on his possible role in the dubious deal with Qatar. Was he trying to help conceal the fact that powerful players in Qatar were arming Hezbollah – one of Israel’s most dangerous enemies? Or did he, as he maintains, want to create transparency about these practices?
According to information available to Berliner Zeitung, the two men have known each other since the end of 2017. At that time, says Jason G., he presented the dossier to a lawyer in Munich who allegedly put him in contact with Inacker. One can wonder whether that was a coincidence. Jason G. says Inacker had been on his radar “for a long time” – as a lobbyist who makes business deals with state actors in many countries.
As Jason G. recalls, Inacker had said the information sounded interesting, and he had offered to show it to the German intelligence service, which, apparently, he did shortly afterwards. Inacker states that he had notified the German authorities in charge about the “information conveyed and thus made it public”. Jason G., however, claims that Inacker had used his contacts to German security officials to raise the market value of the dossier.
Inacker's lawyers stressed that he had "not received any payment from the informant, neither in cash nor in any other way," especially not for "contributing to any cover-up." However, there are indications that both men have been meeting for a longer period. It came in handy that Inacker apparently had contact to a Qatari top-level diplomat in Brussels. He also did not respond to the questions of Berliner Zeitung.
Nevertheless, documents show that some deals with Qatar came about: For instance, Berliner Zeitung has obtained an agreement dating from July 2019, a Memorandum of Understanding between the Qatar armed forces and one of Jason G.’s companies. According to the agreement, the contractor would receive €10,000 every month for his services for one year. In addition, the paper stipulates that G. would not be charged with espionage in any shape or form. The Qataris' motives for this contract remain unclear.
Inacker's lawyer stated that his client had neither received any money from Jason G. nor given him any. However, there is a contract that suggests that both men did at least agree on the payment of commissions. According to the document, which has been obtained by Berliner Zeitung, the parties of the contract were the consulting firm "WMP EuroCom AG…represented by its CEO Dr. Michael Inacker" and a letterbox company in the Caribbean that apparently belongs to Jason G. According to the contract, WMP "has extensive contacts and relationships with potential clients." G., on the other hand, "is interested in developing business relations in Qatar." For all transactions that WMP brokers, a commission of 20 per cent of the turnover is to be paid. The paper does not say what sort of transactions both sides want to engage in.
Jason G. says he assumes that Inacker took him for a businessman, an ex-agent who wanted to monetise the insights he had gained in his previous position. "It really surprises me that Inacker did not ask the right question, and that is, whether anyone in my career ever really retires," said the contractor.
If what Jason G. says is true, he was supposed to keep his knowledge about Qatar’s alleged machinations to himself. In return, the Qataris were offering money. His silence was allegedly worth €750,000.
That was, as he claims, the deal he discussed with Inacker in his Berlin office. Inacker has denied all of the allegations, but the documentation that was presented to Berliner Zeitung seems to support the contractor’s version of the story: According to recordings, Inacker suggested a law company that could draft the NDA the Qataris were asking for. The document was later indeed drafted but apparently not signed.
According to information available to the Berliner Zeitung, the two men were negotiating the details of the deal with Qatar. Inacker was supposed to receive a share of €300,000. "I wanna be fair to you," Jason G. reportedly said, "you have been the most integral part in making the contact" with the diplomat. Inacker allegedly said that, if he was an enemy of Qatar, then he would go public with the story about Qatar and Hezbollah public. That would be, said Inacker, a former journalist, stuff for the front page of the tabloid Bild.
More stories in Berliner Zeitung's English Edition
Translation: Gabriela Keller