As the trial of the US rap artist A$AP Rocky and his bodyguards began on Tuesday in Stockholm, top US diplomat and hostage expert Robert O'Brien was spotted in the court, intensely following the developments.
By his own admission, Robert O'Brien has been following the investigtion of the case of A$AP Rocky and the two other men suspected of assault, on behalf of US President Donald Trump.
“The President asked me to come here and support these American citizens and we are working to get them home as soon as possible” Robert O'Brien said, as quoted by the daily newspaper Expressen.
“Special Envoy Ambassador O'Brien travelled to Sweden at the request of the White House. One of the most important tasks of the Department of Foreign Affairs and US embassies and consulates abroad is to assist US citizens who are detained abroad. We are involved in all these cases. at all levels to fulfil our mission towards American citizens”, Ruth Newman, acting spokesperson at the US Embassy in Sweden, said in a statement.
According to Merrick Tabor, political scientist and adjunct professor at Stockholm University, it is highly unusual for an official of Robert O'Brien's calibre to monitor this type of case.
“When American citizens run into in legal problems in different countries, it is not uncommon to try and protect their interests, but you usually have embassy staff handling it. On the one hand, [O'Brien] has dealt with hostage situations, and on the other, I think it is more often about people who run into legal problems in countries that have a more problematic legal system than Sweden”, Tabor told the Finnish daily Hufvudstadsbladet.
According to Tabor, it is unlikely that O'Brien will act during the trial, his presence being rather symbolic.
“This is certainly something Donald Trump has come up with as part of his domestic politics game. That's what this is really about for Trump”, he added.
“It would be absurd if the Swedish judiciary treated him specially because of his star status and the risk of losing money because of the canceled concerts. <...> Rakim Mayers has not been arrested because of his reputation. He is now being prosecuted because there is robust evidence in the case”, criminologist Fredrik Sjöshult wrote in an opinion piece in Expressen, stressing that in Sweden everyone is equal before the law and the wealthy don't have the opportunity to buy themselves out.
Robert O'Brien is a prominent US lawyer who has worked privately and with the US government. He is currently the US Special Presidential Envoy for Hostage Affairs.
He previously worked on reforming the justice system in Afghanistan under Republican and Democratic Foreign Ministers Condoleezza Rice and Hillary Clinton. During his tenure as UN Ambassador during George W. Bush's presidency, he also worked with current US national security adviser John Bolton. He holds a a law degree from the University of California, and is a partner in the law firm Larson O'Brien LLP.
Rapper A$AP Rocky was arrested on 2 July after a street fight following his appearance at the Smash festival in Stockholm; he has been kept in custody for nearly a month. The prosecutors said the Grammy-nominated rapper and his bodyguards "deliberately, together and in agreement" attacked a local man, Mustafa Jafari, on 30 June. Rocky, by contrast, claimed to have acted in self-defence.
The rapper faces up to two years in prison and fines. If convicted, he is also most likely to serve his sentence in Sweden. The court's evidence consists of 500 pages, including a description of the victim's injuries, mostly cuts and bruises, as well as bloody clothing.