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Tom Barrack. Photo: Michael Kovac/Getty Images

The arrest on Tuesday of Tom Barrack, a business tycoon and close Trump ally, for allegedly acting as an unregistered Emirati agent could complicate relations between the Biden administration and the UAE.

Driving the news: The indictment against Barrack, a real estate investor who chaired Trump’s 2017 inaugural committee, indicates he was in contact with the highest echelons of the Emirati leadership, without naming specific officials.

  • The only Emirati mentioned by name is one of the defendants, businessman Rashid Al-Malik, who facilitated Barrack's communications with senior UAE officials, per the indictment.
  • A 2019 story from The Intercept described Al-Malik as working for Emirati intelligence chief Ali Al-Shamsi as a paid intelligence source, reporting back to Abu Dhabi on the Trump administration's plans. Al-Malik left the U.S. in 2017 after he was interviewed by special counsel Robert Mueller.

Between the lines: Barrack was not charged under the Foreign Agent Registration Act but under another foreign agent statute previously used to charge Russian agent Maria Butina and other alleged spies.

What they're saying: The White House, State Department and Emirati government still haven’t reacted to the indictment.

State of play: Unlike other countries in the region that had warm relations with Trump, the UAE managed to make the transition to Biden with almost no change in the relationship.

  • The White House will likely prioritize maintaining a close relationship with the UAE, but the indictment could create political complications, mainly inside the Democratic Party.

Go deeper

Jul 20, 2021 - Politics & Policy

Chair of Trump's 2017 inaugural fund arrested on federal charges

Tom Barrack speaking on a panel in Beverly Hills, California, in 2019. Photo: Michael Kovac/Getty Images

Real estate investor Tom Barrack, a longtime ally of former President Trump who chaired his 2017 inaugural fund, was arrested Tuesday and charged with acting as an unregistered foreign agent for the United Arab Emirates, the Department of Justice announced.

Why it matters: The DOJ said Barrack attempted to advance the interests of the UAE by influencing the foreign policy positions of Trump's campaign in 2016 and, subsequently, the foreign policy positions of the U.S. government in the incoming administration.

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Go deeper: Full Axios coverage

Bezos beats Branson in space billionaires' battle for attention

Photo illustration: Aïda Amer/Axios. Photo: Imtiyaz Shaikh (Anadolu Agency), Drew Angerer/Getty Images

Jeff Bezos' flight into space generated more interest from the public than Richard Branson's, and both billionaires overshadowed their respective space companies.

Why it matters: Data shows an outsized public interest in the personalities at the center of the space trips, compared to the companies behind them — which could reinforce public suspicion that the ventures were partly vanity plays.