By turns a mining entrepreneur, art collector, and protector of endangered animal species, the Swiss-American billionaire Thomas Kaplan is becoming an ever-closer associate of Abu Dhabi Crown Prince Mohamed bin Zayed al-Nahyan (MbZ). In early 2019, Kaplan has been showing his collection of Dutch art at the Louvre Abu Dhabi museum, only two years after Mohammed bin Zayed personally appointed him to head the International Alliance for the Protection of Heritage in Conflict Areas (ALIPH). This organisation, dedicated to protecting artefacts at risk of destruction by Islamic State (ISIS) and its allies, currently active in the Iraqi city of Mosul, was set up by the Emirati strongman and by former French president François Hollande.

In the shadow of this alliance with Mohammed bin Zayed lurk much more strategic issues. Over the years, Kaplan has built up a mining empire through his investment firm Electrum Group - named after the alloy of gold and silver from which the first ever coins were struck - in which the UAE sovereign wealth fund Mubadala has invested. At the same time, the billionaire has set up extremely well-connected philanthropic and lobby groups which mostly operate in the Middle East. Kaplan thus boasts a significant arsenal of influence, focussed on Iran and its neighbours, and, to a lesser degree, China. This has not escaped the interest of western spy chiefs.

To achieve this, Kaplan, whose father Jay Kaplan was an entrepreneur based in New York, then Florida, relies on an influential entourage cultivated since his earliest years as a pupil at the prestigious – and expensive – Swiss boarding school, Le Rosey. Kaplan counts among these close friends several powerful clans, including his wife's Israeli family, the Recanatis, the Saudi Khashoggis and the German industrialist Thyssens.

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