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Baku targets Armenia-friendly Calif.; US investors warned on Bulgaria; Qatar seeks World Cup PR: Thursday’s Daily Digest

Welcome to our round-up of all the latest foreign lobbying news in Washington and beyond.

$56,000 PR campaign lands Azerbaijan a California op-ed accusing US Armenians of ‘hate crimes’

Foreign agents for Azerbaijan have finally found a California newspaper that agreed to run an op-ed from Ambassador Elin Suleymanov accusing the country’s US Armenian critics of “hate crimes.”

In the piece published Aug. 12 by the Monterey Herald, the ambassador described the several hundred Armenian-Americans who protested outside Azerbaijan’s consulate in Los Angeles last month as being overrun by violent actors. A smaller group of pro-Azerbaijan counter-protesters suffered injuries during scuffles over the conflict in the disputed territory of Nagorno-Karabakh, leading the Los Angeles Police Department to open an investigation into potential hate crimes.

“The confrontation in California did not occur in a vacuum,” Suleymanov wrote. “Both Armenia and the Armenian communities abroad have long been plagued by extremist ideologies, political violence and a complicated history with anti-Semitism, Nazi collaborators and Middle Eastern radicals.” The Armenian National Committee of America (ANCA), which organized the protest, rejects the charges.

The op-ed is linked to a public relations campaign by Stellar Jay Communications. The Azerbaijani Embassy in Washington has paid the La Jolla PR firm $56,100 since hiring it in January to promote Azerbaijan’s point of view. A review of lobbying filings shows the firm shopped around the ambassador’s op-ed to the Mercury News, The Sacramento Bee and the San Francisco Chronicle as well as congressional newspaper The Hill. (Its publication by the Monterey Herald however was disclosed by longtime Azerbaijan lobby shop BGR Public Affairs.)

Los Angeles is home to the world’s largest community of Armenians outside of Armenia. The community has considerable influence on Capitol Hill and in state politics, with L.A. Mayor Eric Garcetti tweeting “we stand with the Armenian community against violence” in Nagorno-Karabakh on the eve of the protest.

Read our deep dive into the intensifying battle for influence on Capitol Hill between Azerbaijan and the Armenian-American community here.

Ex-Freedom House VP takes aim at Bulgarian Prime Minister Borissov

Photo via Prista Oil Holding

A lobby firm for an embattled Bulgarian business clan is seeking to paint the Eastern European country’s government as a threat to US investors.

Recent lobbying filings shed new light on Alexandria Group International‘s work on behalf of the Bobokov family behind the Prista Oil motor oil company. A 13-page “case narrative” distributed by the lobbying firm paints Prime Minister Boyko Borissov as a threat to business interests in several US states.

“Unless the United States and the major European powers persuade Borissov and his coterie to cease their criminal acts and restore democracy and a civil society in Bulgaria, the Bobokovs’ and other business owners’ investments in U.S. and western European jobs and other contributions to democratic societies will be lost,” the document states.

Prista Chairman Plamen Bobokov; his wife, Hristina Bobokov; and his brother, Atanas Bobokov hired the firm for $156,000 last month after the two brothers were charged in May as part of an investigation into the illegal import and export of hazardous waste, as Foreign Lobby Report first reported July 15. Representing them are Alexandria Group’s managing partner Marshall Harris, a former State Department official who worked in Bulgaria and was later Vice President at Freedom House, and Zorica Maric Djordjevic, a former Deputy Minister of Foreign Affairs of Montenegro.

The Alexandria Group accuses Borissov of turning his attention to Bulgarian businesses after having amalgamated political, executive, police and judicial power “in an attempt at ‘criminal capture’ of their assets and future earnings.”

The firm says three “significant” plans to build refineries with US partners and investors in Maryland, Texas and Nebraska are now at risk. So is a $277 million port expansion and power project in the African nation of Liberia that is being promoted by the US Commerce Department in which US investors are the majority owners.

The Alexandria Group goes on to say that it has been approached by victims of three other alleged “criminal-capture cases” since it started lobbying for the Bobokovs.

  • New Foreign Lobbying Filings (FARA)

Canada: The Canadian Embassy in Washington paid LGND of Bethesda $16,000 in branding and website maintenance in the six months through July.

Ecuador: Balsera Communications President David Duckenfield stopped representing Ecuador’s Center for Strategic Intelligence on Aug. 11. Ecuador hired the Florida firm run by President Barack Obama‘s former Hispanic media director Alfredo Balsera for an unspecified sum in June to defend its response to the COVID-19 epidemic. The contract, which we covered in detail here, was scheduled to expire Aug. 15. Balsera and director of special projects Julio Ligorria remain listed on the account.

United Arab Emirates: Project Associates UK of London disclosed no political activities or payments related to its work for the National Media Council of the UAE in the six months through April. The firm registered under FARA in 2017 for the “provision of public relation services across the world” regarding the UAE’s work on counter-terrorism.

  • New Domestic Lobbying Filings (LDA)

Foley Federal & International Affairs lobbied on “matters related to the establishment of a bilateral Avoidance of Double Tax Treaty and inclusion in the US Visa Waiver Program for the Republic of Croatia” on behalf of the National Federation of Croatian Americans. According to the disclosure, firm owner Joseph Foley lobbied Congress and the departments of State, Treasury and Homeland Security during the period but disclosed being paid less than the $5,000 reporting threshold.

  • In other news

PRovoke has the scoop on Qatar’s global public relations search for agencies to support the 2022 FIFA World Cup. Qatar’s Supreme Committee for Delivery & Legacy is handling the pitch process for four multi-market tenders that close Sept. 15. Human-rights groups and Qatar’s regional foes have accused the country of abusing migrant labor to build its stadiums and other infrastructure.

Sludge looks at the history behind a new bill from Reps. Dean Phillips (D-Minn.) and Ben Cline (R-Va.) that targets “shadow lobbying.” The bill would reportedly require “reporting of individuals employed in strategic planning, earned media and press strategy, polling, production of public communications, and encouraging people to take action to support or oppose a legislative or regulatory action through the formation of formal or informal coalitions.”

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