*E-mails reveal lengths to which organiser went to obscure identity
The mystery surrounding who attempted to recruit 500 actors for an “anti-Qatar event” outside Downing Street has deepened, after e-mails obtained by The Independent showed the lengths to which the organisers went to obscure their identity.
Inspired by recent protests in London against Donald Trump’s working visit, last month a man tried to pay a casting agency thousands of pounds to organise a fake rally on the same day His Highness the Amir Sheikh Tamim bin Hamad al-Thani met British Prime Minister Theresa May.
The man, a little known artist living in south London, used fake contact details and a mysterious company set up just three months beforehand to facilitate the payment to the casting agency.
It remains unclear why he attempted to pay for the rally or whether he acted as a middle man for another party.
Despite it being cancelled last minute by the agency, who came to “understand what the hirer was asking of our artistes”, the extraordinary astroturfing attempt just yards from No. 10 was probably orchestrated by Qatar's rivals.
Gulf states, led by Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates, have since last year placed Qatar under an economic blockade. The fake rally appears to be an escalation in attempts to influence UK and international perception of the region.
At the end of July, budding actors were sent an e-mail from casting agency Extra People, which offered £20 per person to take part in the 'demonstration' against the Amir.
Extra People said it was “contacted by an individual” to “source people” for the event. E-mails obtained by The Independent show the client was a Sierra Leone photographer called Leslie Genda.
“They don’t have to say anything. They are just there to make the place look full,” he told Extra People. “The president (sic) of Qatar is coming to Downing Street and they don’t want him here. It’s a bit like when Trump was coming and people didn’t want him here.”
Genda provided the casting agency with an address which combined his genuine home address with a seemingly random northwest London postcode.
He also included a mobile number one digit different to a phone number he is known to use. It is not clear if the number provided in communication with Extra People belongs to Genda. He has refused to comment.
After being told he needed to provide the agency with company details in order to proceed with the event, Genda told Extra People to invoice Neptune PR Ltd.
The Independent visited the address Genda provided – a building in east London – but found only a mailbox for the firm. There was no office.
Neptune PR also appears to have no functioning website. A Twitter account claiming to represent the company initially denied its involvement in a series of tweets.
“We totally refute that Neptune PR was in anyway shape or form, engaged or associated with any such company (Extra People),” it said.
“We demand you provide a shred of evidence to support this outrageous claim. Such accusations are liable to lead to legal action.”
After evidence of the e-mail correspondence was provided on Twitter by Extra People, Neptune PR’s purported Twitter account went silent.
The sole director of Neptune PR, Lola Tirand, a French woman living in east London, failed to respond to questions when contacted by The Independent.
In July, a Qatari diplomat accused “the blockading countries” of being behind the attempted fake rally.
“They have a long history of using paid protesters to try and discredit those who do not agree with their views,” the unnamed diplomat told The Guardian. “Despite their latest attempts to spread lies about Qatar, the visit of His Highness the Amir has further strengthened the historic and strategic partnership between Qatar and the UK.”
There were separate, unverified claims that people, including a group of Russians, were paid to take part in an earlier 'anti-Qatar rally' outside parliament on July 23.
The Saudi and UAE governments have been contacted for comment.