Sara Jacobs extends House District 53's foreign junketing

Wealthy politico off to controversial 2022 FIFA World Cup venue

Jacobs received $10,489 worth of transportation expenses, $878.94 in lodging, and free meals worth approximately $500.

In January, she succeeded Susan Davis, one of the top free foreign travelers in the U.S. House of Representatives. Now fellow Democrat Sara Jacobs has wasted no time taking her first gratis international journey, courtesy of the United States-Qatar Business Council.

The wealthy Qualcomm heiress, elected last November, received $10,489 worth of transportation expenses, $878.94 in lodging, and free meals worth approximately $500, per her post-travel disclosure, filed April 18.

Departing San Diego for Qatar on March 29 and returning April 3, Jacobs was set to be treated to a posh stay at the luxurious Mandarin Oriental Hotel in Downtown Doha, which the disclosure says is in "close proximity to the meeting locations and easy access."

"Although I have stayed in multiple Mandarin Oriental properties across the globe, this one, in particular, left me wide-eyed with its opulence and grandeur," writes reviewer for BusinessTraveller.

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"Undoubtedly, their [Food and Beverage service] is one of the finest in the Qatar capital. Some of my heartiest meals in Doha were enjoyed at the hotel's two popular outlets — one at Mosaic with nine live cooking stations serving dishes inspired by the Silk Route; and the other one is IZU for French-Mediterranean cuisine.

Downtown Doha

"You may also try Cantonese and provincial Chinese delicacies at Liang; gelato and a wide selection of desserts at Gelato; afternoon tea at Mandarin Lounge and creatively crafted drinks at Ambar. For post-work socialisation, check out Baraha Lounge and Aqua."

But according to a March 28 email to House ethics committee staffer Adam Wambold from Mohammed Barakat, managing director of the US-Qatar Business Council, the lodging venue was switched at the last minute.

"We have finalized the travel plans, in the process we had to change the hotel reservations, the new rate of the hotel is lower than we estimated in our sponsorship form, the new hotel will be Fourseasons Doha, instead of mandarin oriental, the current rate is -$260 per night, instead of the estimated -$350.

Al Janoub Stadium, Qatar. Some have faulted Qatar for the deaths of foreign workers connected to the country's World Cup buildout.

"The hotel is still in the same vicinity of the previous hotel, and provides the same ease of access to the planned meetings and provide safe and secure access."

Notes BusinessTraveller in an April 2020 review of the newly remodeled Four Seasons: "The lobby now features "a grandiose door reminiscent of grande dame entrances", and “has been redesigned as an open plan space, with bespoke Italian furnishings and a centrepiece hand blown glass chandelier."

"An outdoor terrace has been added to the Seasons Tea Lounge, and the lounge itself has been revamped, 'exuding the classical touches of a Parisian café', alongside nods to the Middle East including a marbled floor inspired by Islamic mosaic tilework, oriental sofas, and cashmere patterned fabrics surrounding openwork tea tables."

Andreas Krieg says the criticism of Qatar is unfair.

According to her filing, Jacobs's purpose for going to Qatar was "to learn more about the bilateral relationship between the United States and Qatar" and "identify opportunities to connect constituents for CA-53 with counterparts in Qatar to advance U.S. interests."

Events listed on the junket's itinerary included "training and planning exercises in preparation for the 2022 FIFA World Cup led by the Supreme Committee for Delivery and Legacy."

"The Supreme Committee will provide an overview of the current US involvement in Qatar's build-up to the World Cup and what opportunities exist for additional collaboration" said an initial itinerary draft attached to the filing.

"Participants will learn about the infrastructure, sport-related, broadcasting, equipment provision, and other opportunities that may benefit American businesses."

Some have faulted Qatar for the deaths of foreign workers connected to the country's World Cup buildout. "In February, reports emerged that more than 6,500 migrant workers from India, Bangladesh, Nepal, Pakistan and Sri Lanka had died in the Middle East nation since 2011, when it won the right to host the tournament," wrote Hari Raj of the South China Morning Post on April 9.

"A significant proportion of those who died were involved in Doha's US$200 billion World Cup-related infrastructure drive, according to The Guardian."

"The number of deaths is definitely higher, as it does not include workers from countries such as the Philippines. They died from heatstroke and exhaustion and suicide, thousands of kilometres from their families, their final hours defined only by uncertainty thanks to the paucity and opacity of official records."

Defenders of the country, including Andreas Krieg, an assistant professor at the Defense Studies Department of King's College London, say the criticism is unfair.

“The exploitation of migrant labour is a characteristic of our globalised world, from the underpaid slaughterers in Germany’s abattoirs, to the exploitation of seasonal farmworkers in the US and Europe, to the precarious working conditions of those who deliver our food during a pandemic. Similarly, companies in Qatar have taken advantage of the free flow of labour to cut corners at the expense of employees.”

“As in western economies, some employers continue to bypass the law to improve their margins. While the government issued more than 7,000 fines against companies ignoring new regulations in the final quarter of 2020 alone, the sheer volume of migrant labour in the country means that prosecution continues to play catchup.”