Latest filings

Syria refugee camp council names US envoy; UAE get Mars mission PR; ex-envoy to NATO Lute to chair BGR’s 8-nation international practice: Monday’s Daily Digest

Anti-Assad refugees in Rukban gain US representation

Tribal Council of Palmyra and Badia / Facebook

Syrian refugees trapped in a remote desert camp near the border with Jordan have launched a US awareness campaign to urge the Joe Biden administration to keep the pressure on the Bashar al-Assad regime and do more for the millions of displaced Syrians.

The Tribal Council of Palmyra and Badia, one of several competing groups that help run the Rukban refugee camp, has retained a Massachusetts-based finance and accounting professional to serve as its US delegate. Syrian-born Mahmoud Diab was appointed to the position in mid-August but has only just now registered as a foreign agent with the US Department of Justice.

According to the registration, Diab and the tribal council will provide public relations and awareness campaigns, localized knowledge and intelligence and on-the-ground support to the US-led Global Coalition to Defeat ISIS (the Islamic State). Their goal is to obtain humanitarian and development aid for areas liberated from Assad’s rule, advance foreign policies to ensure Assad and his lieutenants can’t remain in power and counter “the increasingly malicious Iranian influence in Syria.”

Diab’s registration comes as Syrian opposition groups have been ramping up their influence campaigns in Washington amid conflicting priorities after almost 10 years of war.

Read the story here.


New lobbying filings

Americas

Canada (Alberta): A public relations firm for the Canadian province of Alberta circulated polling data to reporters right before President Joe Biden‘s inauguration purporting to show that canceling the Keystone XL pipeline was not politically popular and was not widely believed to have much impact on fighting climate change. Alberta, a part owner of the pipeline between western Canada’s oil sands and Gulf coast refineries, hired bipartisan public relations firm JDA Frontline Partners on Dec. 18 for $340,000 through May 1. This is Alberta’s third such contract in recent months: The province in November hired Sens. Trent Lott (R-Miss.) and John Breaux (D-La.) of Crossroads Strategies for $350,000 through October 2021. Alberta also has a 30,000/month contract with Ottawa-based Crestview Strategy through March 2021. The lobbying blitz has had little measurable effect, with Biden fulfilling a campaign pledge to rescind the pipeline’s permit on his first day in office.

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Haiti: Mercury Public Affairs has registered Vice President Djenny Passe-Rodriguez on its account for the office of the Presidency of Haiti. The firm has had a contract with its parent company Mercury International UK to represent the office of President Jovenel Moise since 2018. 

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Asia

Azerbaijan: Baker Donelson has signed a new independent contractor’s agreement to assist the BGR Group in its representation of the embassy of Azerbaijan through 2021. The contract is for $18,000 per month, the same as previously. Baker Donelson has been a subcontractor to BGR on the account since 2018. The renewal comes despite a pressure campaign from Armenian-American groups to get firms to drop Azerbaijan and its ally Turkey over last year’s conflict with rival Armenia over the Nagorno-Karabakh enclave.

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China: Hai Tian Development of Flushing, New York disclosed been paid $270,000 in the second half of 2020 to print and distribute the People’s Daily Overseas Edition, the Chinese government’s official newspaper. The company has been a registered foreign agent since 1996.

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Japan: The Japan National Tourism Organization in New York received around $730,000 from headquarters in Tokyo in the second half of 2020 and spent $820,000 on advertising and public relations. Chikako Goto registered as a new director in the New York office last week.

Kazakhstan: APCO Worldwide terminated its representation of the Ministry of Justice of Kazakhstan via Herbert Smith Freehills on Jan. 15. The London law firm originally hired APCO for three months and $65,000 in July for PR work “in connection with litigation in courts in the United States and other jurisdictions.” Registered on the account are Jonathan “Jay” Solomon, the former chief foreign affairs for the Wall Street Journal, and Kent Jarrell, formerly of CBS. The contract specified that APCO was expected to assist Norton Rose Fulbright, a law firm that is representing Kazakhstan in its legal fight with Moldovan businessman Anatolie Stati. The two parties have been battling in the courts in the United States and Europe for years over Kazakhstan’s seizure of Stati’s petroleum operations in 2010.

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Malaysia: The Malaysian Palm Oil Council office in Washington received $230,000 from its headquarters in the six months through January and spent $240,000 to promote the country’s palm oil industry. Palm oil is a major export for Malaysia, which has come under over allegations of forced labor. The Donald Trump administration halted imports from two major Malaysian palm oil producers last year after finding them responsible for forced labor abuses.

Pakistan: The North American office of the disciplinary panel of Pakistan Tehreek-e-Insaf party (PTI) has registered three of its directors under the Foreign Agents Registration Act (FARA): Director Qamar Zaman Khan, Director Adbul Hafeez Khan and Mohammad Akram. The so-called Standing Committee on Accountability and Discipline (SCAD) registered as a foreign agent last week amid infighting among members of Prime Minister Imran Khan‘s party in the United States.

South Korea: Nelson Mullins has renewed its contract with the Embassy of South Korea for the first six months of 2021, extendable at the embassy’s discretion. The engagement aims to “further strengthen US-Korea relations and expand the Embassy’s network with the Congress during the 2021 sessions of the 117th Congress.” Nelson Mullins has represented the embassy since January 2019. The new contract is for $67,500 per quarter, down from $75,000 per quarter previously. The new contract was signed by Christopher Cushing, a former principal adviser to then-Senate Majority Leader Bob Dole (R-Kansas) who now leads the firm’s federal and state policy team. Also registered on the account are former Rep. Ron Klink (D-Penn.) and partners Vinoda Basnayake and Woojin Shin.

Taiwan: The Nickles Group has renewed its contract with Taiwan’s de facto embassy in Washington for another six months. The contract with the Taipei Economic and Cultural Representative Office (TECRO) is for $20,000 per month, the same as before. The firm founded by former Sen. Don Nickles (R-Okla.) has represented Taiwan since 2013. Partner Stacey Hughes is no longer a partner nor owner of the firm as of Jan. 1.

Europe

Austria: The Austrian Tourist Office in New York received $450,000 from Vienna in the second half of 2020 to promote travel to the country.

France: Media Planning International Corporation, the Miami office of French multinational advertising and public relations company Havas, terminated its registration for French tourism development agency Atout France on Dec. 15. Atout France hired Havas in 2017 for media planning and buying campaigns involving digital and social media advertisements.

Middle East

Israel: The World Zionist Organization, American Section Inc. in New York received $3.5 million from the Executive of the World Zionist Organization in Jerusalem in the second half of 2020. The group’s stated aim is to foster the ideals of Zionism and Judaism and the unity of the Jewish people.

Qatar: Mercury Public Affairs has registered Toby Denselow, a vice president in the firm’s London office, to its account for the Embassy of Qatar in Washington. Denselow is also registered as a foreign agent for the UN-backed Government of National Accord (GNA) in Libya, which is close to Qatar. Mercury signed a $30,000-a-month contract with the embassy in November 2019.

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Turkey: Washington law firm Saltzman & Evinch disclosed receiving $868,000 from the Turkish embassy in the second half of 2020 for help with civil, criminal and administrative litigation and legal advice. The US Department of Justice required the firm to register as a foreign agent of Ankara last year after determining that it had been sharing its legal analyses with lobbyists and public relations firms for the Turkish government. The firm’s latest filing says it did not conduct any lobbying activities in the past six months.

The firm also disclosed a $5,000 contribution in August from firm principal Gunay Evinch to the Turkish Coalition USA PAC, one of several Turkish-American political action committees. The PAC distributed $52,350 in the last election cycle, including $10,000 to the National Republican Congressional Committee (NRCC); $5,000 to the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee (DCCC); $5,000 to the Congressional Black Caucus PAC; and $5,000 to the campaign of Rep. Pete Sessions (R-Texas), a former co-chairman of the congressional Turkey Caucus who was re-elected to Congress in November after a two-year hiatus.

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United Arab Emirates: St. Louis public relations firm Fleishman-Hillard has signed a $20,000 contract to help promote the expected start of the Emirati Mars probe’s orbit around the Red Planet next month. The contract with affiliate Fleishman-Hillard Group in the UK (FH UK) is for “US media relations activity for the Emirates Mars Mission milestone of Mars Orbital Insertion in February 2021.” It is scheduled to last between Jan. 15 and Feb. 28.

The contract also adds Fleishman-Hillard communications employee Amy Rand to the project. The lobbying registration states Rand will help bring awareness of the Mars probe while acting as a spokesperson for media inquiries. Khadija Hussain Abdullah, executive director of the UAE’s Government Communication Office, is the firm’s new point of contact on the account.

Fleishman-Hillard first registered in July as an agent of the Public Diplomacy Office of the UAE Ministry of Cabinet Affairs and the Future, which oversees the implementation of the government’s priorities, to promote the Hope Mars Mission and its broader space program. The probe departed from Japan in July with the goal of reaching Mars in 2021, the 50th anniversary of the country’s independence. Emirati scientists working with international institutions will notably study the planet’s weather cycles and dust storms, generating both practical and reputational benefits.

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United Arab Emirates (Abu Dhabi): Analyst Jason Schwartz terminated his relation with the Camstoll Group and its client Outlook Energy Investments as of Jan. 8. Camstoll has been working for Outlook, which is wholly owned by the emirate of Abu Dhabi, since 2012. The firm is headed by Matthew Epstein, a former US Treasury Department financial attache to Saudi Arabia and the UAE. Its work for Outlook is aimed at combating illicit financial activity and has notably focused on raising concerns about alleged financial support for terrorist groups by UAE rival Qatar. The firm disclosed $7 million in fees and expenses from Outlook Energy Investments in 2019 and $3.5 million in the first half of 2020.

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Caught our eye

Lobbying powerhouse the BGR Group announced today that it had hired former NATO Ambassador Douglas Lute to chair its international and defense practices. Lute had a 45-year career in the US military and as a senior adviser and diplomat, including stints as Deputy National Security Advisor for Iraq and Afghanistan under President George W. Bush and Coordinator for South Asia under President Barack Obama before being named envoy to NATO. BGR called Lute’s hiring a “game-changing addition” for BGR, whose clients include the governments of Azerbaijan, Bahrain, Bangladesh, Honduras, India, Kazakhstan, South Korea and Venezuela as well as the Hong Kong Trade Development Council and the Kurdistan Regional Government of Iraq. “Ambassador Lute’s familiarity with American foreign policy and today’s policymakers,” the firm said, “gives him the unique ability to help clients understand the Biden team’s approach to international security challenges and opportunities, and America’s relationships with its allies and partners.”

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The chief of staff to Sen. Susan Collins (R-Maine), Olivia Kurtz, is leaving Capitol Hill after two decades to join the S-3 Group as a principal, Politico reports. Te firm is notably registered as a foreign agents for the embassies of Japan and Italy, an Azerbaijan company lobbying against Armenia, and the Delegation of the European Union to the United States.

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Congress has reintroduced legislation to crack down on foreign disinformation, The Hill reports. The Foreign Agent Disclaimer Enhancement (FADE) Act is sponsored by Reps. Abigail Spanberger (D-Va.) and John Katko (R-N.Y.). It would expand the Foreign Agents Registration Act (FARA) by requiring foreign agents to report political ads and foreign-funded social media posts to the Department of Justice. It would also require political content shared on social media to include a disclaimer if it is funded by foreign agents. The Justice Department could notify and force social media platforms to remove posts that fail to do so. “Disclaimers on misleading, foreign-backed social media posts are often non-existent, particularly when content is shared or linked. In these instances, social media works as a rumor mill for disinformation,” Spanberger said in a statement. “By requiring foreign disclaimers within the actual content of social media posts, we can make sure the public knows the origins of information — and we can strengthen our democracy for the better.”

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