Just two weeks after taking over seemingly out of nowhere, Kyrgyzstan’s acting president has already obtained a $1 million lobbying contract for international help with an economic crisis that contributed to his predecessor’s downfall.
A businessman who says he was acting on behalf of the office of President Sadyr Japarov signed the contract with former Israeli military intelligence officer Ari Ben-Menashe on Oct. 30, according to a new lobbying filing. It calls for Ben-Menashe’s firm, Montreal-based Dickens & Madson Canada, to lobby governments in the United States and the Middle East for assistance to the struggling Central Asian republic.
“You hereby retain us … to lobby the executive and/or legislative branches of the governments of the United States, Israel, Saudi Arabia, United Arab Emirates and any other mutually agreed-upon country or countries, international organizations and NGOs on your behalf,” the contract signed by Abdymanap Karchygayev states. Dickens & Madson has already received half the agreed-upon amount, according to the filing.
Japarov, a former lawmaker, was in prison on 7-year-old kidnapping charges in connection with his activism against a Canadian-owned gold mine when demonstrators protesting last month’s disputed legislative election broke him out on Oct. 6. He became prime minister on Oct. 14 and acting president a day later.
From the United States, Dickens & Madson is seeking “material assistance in dealing with the COVID-19 pandemic and its economic consequences,” according to the lobbying filing. This includes securing meetings for Japarov with “senior US officials” in “short order” to attempt to develop “security relations and economic cooperation” agreements as well as funding for debt repayment. The Kyrgyz embassy in Washington did not respond to requests for comment.
But the agreement doesn’t end there, drawing on Ben-Menashe’s Middle East connections — he’s notably a lobbyist for Emirati transport logistics giant Dubai Ports World — to press for help from the increasingly integrated region.
” Obviously there’s been a rapprochement [between Israel and the Gulf] and [Kyrgyzstan] will get the benefit of the package.”Ari Ben-Menashe
That includes striving to arrange a meeting for Japarov with Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and lobbying the governments of Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates to invest in the country’s “highway infrastructure” and the “development of its mines and oil fields,” with possible meetings for Japarov in Riyadh and Abu Dhabi. The Israeli government can expect to be pressed to invest in the country’s agricultural and security sectors, while private US businesses will be encouraged to invest in the country’s agricultural sector, particularly cotton.
In a phone interview with Foreign Lobby Report, Ben-Menashe said the time was ripe for Israel and Gulf Arab states to work together on international assistance after the Donald Trump administration helped bring their long-lasting ties into the open.
“Obviously there’s been a rapprochement and these guys [Kyrgyzstan] will get the benefit of the package,” Ben-Menashe said. “They might be able to put together an aid package where you have the different parties in the Middle East contribute. It makes it easier for everybody.”
“The Israelis want to be seen as working with the Gulf countries” on such endeavors, Ben-Menashe added. “The Gulf countries, it’s a different story — they might not want to be public about it.”
The contract comes as Kyrgyzstan has been turning everywhere it can for relief as the coronavirus epidemic takes a disproportionate toll on its economy. Remittances from Kyrgyz migrant laborers working in Russia and elsewhere, which make up about a third of the country’s economy, have dropped 60% during the pandemic. The country has notably turned to China, whose export-import bank owns more than two-fifths of the country’s $4 billion debt load, to ask for relief.
Jennifer Murtazashvili, the director of the Center for Governance and Markets at the University of Pittsburgh who previously served with the US Agency for International Development (USAID) in Central Asia, said Kyrgyzstan is in “deep fiscal distress.” Japarov’s government, she said, is under intense pressure to deliver results with few resources and is likely looking for help wherever he can find it rather than seeking to re-orient the former Soviet Republic toward the West.
“They’re speaking to everybody right now,” Murtazashvili said. “To me this is just opportunistic. I don’t see this as particularly one side or the other. I think they’re just throwing spaghetti at the wall to see what sticks.”
Update: This post has been updated to reflect that the lobbying contract was signed by Abdymanap Karchygayev, who says he was acting on behalf of President Sadyr Japarov.