Abu Dhabi, UAEWednesday 16 October 2019

American employees sue Qatar emir's brother after pistol pulled during sacking

Stressful and dangerous role accompanying Qatari royal, writ says, with one employee going without sleep for 36 hours

Construction work at the Al Bayt stadium in Doha. Qatar's preparations for the football 2022 World Cup have been affected by a boycott by neighbouring states. Lars Baron / Bongarts / Getty Images
Construction work at the Al Bayt stadium in Doha. Qatar's preparations for the football 2022 World Cup have been affected by a boycott by neighbouring states. Lars Baron / Bongarts / Getty Images

A senior member of the Qatari royal family who runs a sprawling conglomerate charged with building some of the largest 2022 World Cup venues faces allegations of kidnapping and violent abuse in a US lawsuit brought by former employees.

Court papers alleged that Sheikh Khalid bin Hamad Bin Khalifa Al Thani threatened to kill his US security chief after the man refused to obey an order to murder two people.

Sheikh Khalid, who is the brother of the Emir of Qatar, eventually sacked Matthew Pittard following another confrontation at gunpoint.

The writ also involves another former member of staff, Matthew Allende, who alleges he had to clamber over an 18-foot wall to escape the royal's Qatari compound. However he was badly injured, caught and hospitalised, after which he was sacked.

Both men, who are American citizens, are seeking damages from the 32-year-old Sheikh Khalid, who is best known for his substantial investment in the drag racing industry, and two of his companies - Geo-Strategic Defense Solutions and KH Holding.

They are demanding compensation for breaches of the US Fair Standards Labour Act as well as the payment of wages which they claim were illegally withheld.

They had been hired to work for Sheikh Khalid in the US, Qatar and any other destination he visited, which included Qatar and the UK.

Mr Pittard, from Pasco County, Florida, claims to have signed a contract which specified he would work five days out of seven and was also entitled to 30 days of paid leave a year.

His annual salary was $102,000 plus an end of year bonus.

In theory, he should have worked a 40-hour week, but in reality, he was on duty for 70-80 hours.

There was other stressful aspects to the job also alleged in the writ. In the autumn of 2017, it is alleged, Sheikh Khalid "solicited" Mr Pittard to murder a man and a woman whom he "viewed as threats to his social reputation and personal security".

Mr Pittard refused. Then, in July last year, the Sheikh and his security staff imprisoned an American in one of his residences on two occasions, before arranging for the person to be arrested and held at a police station.

In co-operation with the US embassy, Mr Pittard helped the individual escape Qatar. The royal and his staff are alleged to have demanded that Mr Pittard disclose the American's whereabouts, warning he would "pay the price" if he refused to do so.

Sheikh Khalid's companies include conglomerate KH Holding as well as firms that claim to have contracts on the construction of Al Bayt Stadium, a World Cup venue. Sheikh Khalid, KH Holding and Geo Strategic Defence Solutions are named as defendants in the writ.

"Defendant Khalid's threats to, and requests of, Pittard continued to escalate; Defendant Khalid directly told Pittard that he would kill him, bury his body in the desert, and kill Pittard's family," the writ alleges.

Mr Pittard was himself held against his will and faced further threats.

According to the lawsuit, he was then sacked.

"Pittard was forced under duress, with Defendant Khalid brandishing a Glock 26 firearm, which he tapped repeatedly during his exchange with Pittard, to execute new employment documents."

The US State Department told The National it would not comment on specific allegations at this time. “We don’t comment on ongoing litigation,” it said. Sheikh Khalid’s legal team did not respond to a request for comments. In a report The Times newspaper said Kamel Daou, a lawyer for KH Holding, claimed he was unaware of the lawsuit and had no comment.

Sheikh Khalid is also being sued by Matthew Allende, from Los Angeles. He had signed a contract which required him to be on duty around the clock, with time off only permitted at the discretion of his employer. He was paid $500 a day.

"While working for Defendants, Allende worked seven days per week, approximately 12 hours per day, with minimal meal breaks," the writ alleges. "There were periods of time, particularly at the beginning of his employment, where Allende worked for 20 to 36 hours straight, with minimal meal breaks and no opportunity for sleep."

On December 17, 2017, having worked three weeks without a break including one 36-hour "sleepless binge" at the behest of Sheikh Khalid, Mr Allende asked for a day off.

The request was granted and then Sheikh Khalid changed his mind and Allende was stopped by an armed guard at the exit of Majlis, the Sheikh's residence in Doha, and told to go back.

"Instead of returning to Majlis, and fearing for his life, Allende escaped the confines of the premises of Majlis by jumping over a five-foot rod-iron fence, and then using a security guard dog's kennel to scale over an eighteen-foot perimeter wall."

Landing on a concrete walkway, he sustained serious injuries, which required immediate medical attention.

Mr Allende, who was on crutches, was sacked on February 18, 2018.

Updated: August 9, 2019 04:06 PM

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