The Wall Street Journal has fired longtime foreign affairs correspondent Jay Solomon for what it said was a violation of “his ethical obligations as a reporter.”
The paper announced the move minutes before The Associated Press reported that Solomon was offered a 10 percent stake in a company headed by a news source ― an Iranian-born businessman who was once an arms dealer with CIA ties. Among the ventures Solomon discussed was a $725 million contract that would allow surveillance planes to spy inside of Iran, according to AP.
AP said it could not confirm whether Solomon received money from Farhad Azima, the businessman, or accepted a stake in his company, Denx LLC. Deux ceased operations last year, according to AP.
Solomon’s firing ― and the idea that a reporter could have positioned himself to collect more than $70 million in a shady international arms deal ― seemed straight out of Hollywood, and immediately sent shockwaves through journalism circles.
Solomon denied any business venture with Azima. “I clearly made mistakes in my reporting and entered into a world I didn’t understand,” he told the AP on Wednesday. “I never entered into any business with Farhad Azima, nor did I ever intend to. But I understand why the emails and the conversations I had with Mr. Azima may look like I was involved in some seriously troubling activities.”
The Wall Street Journal told HuffPost that Solomon was no longer employed by the paper and said it was conducting its own investigation into the allegations.
“We are dismayed by the actions and poor judgement of Jay Solomon,” a spokesman for the paper said. “The allegations raised by this reporting are serious. While our own investigation continues, we have concluded that Mr. Solomon violated his ethical obligations as a reporter, as well as our standards. He has not been forthcoming with us about his actions or his reporting practices and he has forfeited our trust.”
Paul Beckett, the Journal’s Washington bureau chief, notified staff Wednesday afternoon that Solomon was fired following ethical violations, but did not go into great detail, according to sources. He informed staffers that publication of an AP story was imminent.
The Associated Press obtained tens of thousands of Azima’s emails that include communications between the businessman and Solomon. The AP also obtained an March 2015 operating agreement for Denx, which listed “an apparent stake for Solomon.”
AP reported that Solomon’s early email conversations with Azima appear aimed at cultivating him as a source. But the emails suggest their relationship evolved.
“Our businessman opportunities are so promising,” Solomon texted Azima in October 2014, the AP reported. Later that month, Solomon asked Azima if he had mentioned their business plans to a mutual friend. “Hell no!” Azima wrote.
The next year, Azima wrote Solomon to discuss a $725 million contract with the United Arab Emirates that would allow surveillance planes to spy inside of Iran, Syria, Iraq, and Yemen. Azima, a U.S. citizen and an aviation magnate, asked Solomon to float the idea with the UAE government at an upcoming lunch, according to an April 2015 email obtained by the AP.
“We all wish best of luck to Jay on his first defense sale,” Azima wrote to Solomon and two of his business partners ― former CIA officers Gary Bernsten and Scott Modell.
Before Deux was shuttered, its partners considered a scheme to instigate regime change in Kuwait, AP reported. It’s unclear if they acted on the plan.
Solomon, who had been nominated by the Journal for multiple Pulitzer Prizes, led the paper’s coverage of secret negotiations that culminated in a nuclear agreement between Iran, the U.S., and five world powers. In a book published last year, Solomon criticized the nuclear accord, arguing that “rather than calming the world’s most combustible region, [it] risks inflaming it.”
Investigators in the U.S. and abroad are now probing whether Azima, in a separate deal, violated the Foreign Corrupt Practices Act by bribing an Emirati official to profit from a hotel sale in Tbilisi, Georgia, AP reported on Tuesday.
Azima has a decades-long history of questionable business deals. But until recently, he evaded law enforcement, in part because of past work with the CIA.
Jeffrey Fegley, a former employee of Azima’s airline, Global Airways, described himself to AP as “the guy who filled up the briefcases with $100,000 worth of small bills so you could bribe the ground crew to get your cargo unloaded in a foreign land.” When AP pressed Fegley on who Global Airways’ clients were, he named the CIA.
Azima’s CIA connections later served him when prosecutors began investigating a Kansas bank in the 1980s with possible mob ties. Azima was one of the bank’s directors, but he was off-limits to law enforcement, a retired prosecutor told AP.
“It became apparent that we were not able to pursue prosecution of Azima, Lloyd Monroe said.
This is a developing story and will be updated.