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Bulgarian opposition party scores Capitol Hill meetings; Gephardt lobbied for Biden inauguration tickets for Taiwan; Afghan lawmakers lobby against Pentagon plan to charge for fuel: Wednesday’s Daily Digest

Bulgarian opposition party scores Capitol Hill meetings

Oct. 9, 2016: Bulgarian Prime Minister Boyko Borrisov (left) sits next to Tsvetan Tsvetanov during the launch of the 2016 presidential campaign in Sofia. Bulgaria / Anton Chalakov

The leader of a new Bulgarian opposition party with a hefty lobbying presence scored meetings with key lawmakers and policy-shapers in Washington this week ahead of the April 4 parliamentary elections in the central European country.

Former parliamentary leader and interior minister Tsvetan Tsvetanov launched Republicans for Bulgaria in September, a year after stepping down as the parliamentary leader of Prime Minister Boyko Borissov’s ruling GERB party. His new party presents itself as pro-western in a part of the world where Russian influence remains strong.

This week’s visit comes after the party’s Chicago-based deputy leader, Bulgarian-American entrepreneur Pavel Valnev, hired Washington lobbying firm Yorktown Solutions for $300,000 for six months in December to help advance the party’s interests in Washington. Yorktown is led by Daniel Vajdich, a former Republican Senate Foreign Relations Committee (SFRC) staffer and adviser to the presidential campaign of Sen. Ted Cruz (R-Texas).

Tsvetanov and Valnev met this week with SFRC member Todd Young (R-Ind.) and Rep. Robert Aderholt (R-Ala.), a member of the Helsinki Commission, to talk about closer trans-Atlantic military and political cooperation as well as the erosion of the rule of law and media freedom in the country. The pair also met with Erik Brattberg, the director of the Europe program at the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace, as well as James Carafano and Luke Coffey, respectively the vice president for national security and foreign policy and the director for foreign policy at the Heritage Foundation.

Valnev is the latest in a string of Bulgarian actors who have signed up to lobby the US government in recent months as longstanding allegations of widespread corruption take a political toll. For months, protesters have called for Borissov to step down.

Several Bulgarian business owners have recently hired former State Department official Marshall Harris and his Alexandria Group International to raise the alarm with US policymakers over what Harris calls “state criminal capture of enterprise” in the country.

Meanwhile a Bulgarian law firm representing one of the targets of Harris’ lobbying campaign, parliamentarian Delyan Peevskihired the BGR Group earlier this month to help deal with Peevski’s “issues” in the US.

Listen to our Jan. 15 interview with Harris on the Influencers podcast co-hosted by Foreign Lobby Report and the LEVICK communications firm.

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New in lobbying

Africa

Democratic Republic of the Congo: Washington political consulting firm Greystone Global Strategies disclosed a total of $41,000 in payments from the Democratic Republic of the Congo’s National Assembly prior to the contract’s termination on Dec. 31, according to a new lobbying filing. The firm led by Chris Beatty was hired last summer to craft a communications plan and train key staff for the office of Jeanine Mabunda, the first woman to ever lead the chamber. A long-time politician close to former President Joseph Kabila, Mabunda was impeached by parliament and removed from the position on Dec. 10 in a clash between supporters of Kabila and President Felix Tshisekedi.

Ghana: Greystone also remains registered as a foreign agent for the New Patriotic Party of Ghana of President Nana Akufo-Addo, who won re-election in the first round of elections in December 2020. The firm signed a $26,500 contract with the center-right party for the period between Nov. 1 and Dec. 15 but has not terminated the engagement, according to its latest filing. The firm worked with the party to “design and execute a communications plan for the presidential and parliamentary campaigns” and disclosed receiving just $7,580 in payments on Feb. 23.

Asia

Afghanistan: Afghan lawmakers are lobbying against the Pentagon’s plans to charge the country’s armed forces $40 million for diesel fuel. In a Feb. 20 letter to Lt. Gen. John Deedrick, the commanding general of the Combined Security Transition Command – Afghanistan, the chairman of the Afghan parliament’s Budget and Finance Commission wrote that the country faces a “dire” financial situation as it battles the dual threat of COVID-19 and the Taliban. “This commission believes that a hasty transition of diesel fuel contracts from off-budget to on-budget will result in illegal activity, waste, fraud, and abuse,” Qazi Mir Afghan Safi wrote, “and puts ANDSF [Afghan National Defense and Security Forces] combat readiness at risk, jeopardizing our mutually shared goal of having a strong ANDSF capable of defending the country against unprecedented levels of insurgency and violence.”

The letter was disseminated on behalf of the Washington-based nonprofit Afghanistan-US Democratic Peace and Prosperity Council by Jake Perry, a former top adviser to then-Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-Nev.). Perry’s firm Jake Perry + Partners is one of four lobbying firms registered as foreign agents for the council, which is funded by Afghan businessman Mohammad Gul Raoufi and headed by executive director Martin Rahmani in Washington. Three Afghan lawmakers sit on its board of advisers: Mir Haider AfzalyNaheed Farid and Haji Ajmal Rahmani. The council’s lobbying registration with the Department of Justice describes its mission as working to “encourage the U.S. to adopt legislation, military assistance, and foreign policy that will promote Afghan national security and strong US-Afghanistan strategic ties, including anti-terrorism efforts.” The council held its first virtual advocacy day on Jan. 26, the anniversary of the country’s post-Taliban 2004 constitution, with more than 500 Afghan-Americans reportedly contacting Congress and the White House.

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China (Fujian Jinhua): Blueprint Communications disclosed $140,000 in payments during the six months through January for public relations work on behalf of a Chinese semiconductor firm accused of intellectual property theft. During that time the firm contacted reporters who cover Chinese business for Reuters, Bloomberg and the radio show Marketplace. The Alexandria-based firm notified the Department of Justice in July 2020 that it had signed a contract for “communications and media relations consulting” on behalf of Fujian Jinhua Integrated Circuit Company five months earlier. The firm is working as a subcontractor for Steptoe & Johnson, one of four registered foreign agents for Fujian along with Blueprint, Brownstein Hyatt and consultant Jim Handy. Blueprint co-founders Chad Kolton and James Morrell, both veterans of the George W. Bush White House, are registered as foreign agents on the account.

Fujian Jinhua has attracted outsize media attention as the first company targeted under the “China initiative” that the Justice Department launched in 2018. A federal grand jury charged the state-owned company back in November 2018 of involvement in a conspiracy to steal trade secrets from Micron Technology of Idaho, the only US-based company to manufacture dynamic random-access memory (DRAM). The allegations led the US Commerce Department to cut off Fujian Jinhua from US suppliers in October 2018.

Malaysia: The Malaysian Rubber Council (formerly Malaysian Rubber Export Promotion Council) disclosed $167,000 in payments from its parent in Malaysia in the six months through January. Washington lobbying firm Broydrick and Associates registered as a foreign agent of the council in February 2020 amid US concerns over allegations of forced labor in Malaysia’s world-leading disposable rubber glove industry. The US banned certain imports from the world’s top rubber glove maker, Malaysia’s Top Glove, in July even as it lifted a ban on another Malaysian manufacturer amid shortages of personal protective equipment amid the COVID-19 outbreak.

Taiwan: Former House Majority Leader Dick Gephardt (D-Mo.) reached out to the office of House Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.) to help score tickets to President Joe Biden‘s inauguration for Taiwan’s de facto ambassador to the United States, according to a new lobbying disclosure for Gephardt Group Governmental Affairs. Hsiao Bi-khim was the first Taiwanese official to be formally invited to the ceremony by the inauguration’s organizing committee since the US established diplomatic ties with Beijing in 1979, a sign that the Biden administration plans to continue the policy of enhanced diplomatic recognition started under President Donald Trump. In the late summer of 2020 Gephardt also helped set up a phone call with Sen. Sherrod Brown (D-Ohio) to introduce him to Hsiao, who took office in July 2020. Gephardt’s firm has represented the Taipei Economic and Cultural Representative Office (TECRO), Taiwan’s de facto embassy in Washington, since 2013 and is paid $22,000 per month.

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Separately, Gephardt Group lobbyist Janice O’Connell contacted the offices of then-House Foreign Affairs Committee Chairman Eliot Engel (D-N.Y.) and Reps. Bill Keating (D-Mass.) and Kurt Schrader (D-Oregon) to discuss bilateral trade issues and Taiwan’s ban on imports of US pork containing the leanness-enhancing additive ractopamine. Taiwan relaxed its ban at the end of last year. In November O’Connell contacted Engel’s office to set up a farewell phone call with President Tsai Ing-wen following Engel’s electoral defeat.

Europe

Russia: Amnesty International has stripped Russian opposition leader Alexei Navalny of his “prisoner of conscience status” following what the group called an “orchestrated campaign” pushed in part by the pro-Kremlin news channel RT. The campaign highlighted xenophobic comments Navalny has made in the past. Former Navalny spokeswoman Anna Veduta has been registered to lobby in the US on “human rights, democracy and the rule of law” on behalf of exiled oligarch Mikhail Khodorkovsky‘s London-based Human Rights Project Management advocacy group since last spring. She disclosed $180,000 in payments from the group in 2020.

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Middle East

Israel: New York law firm Kasowitz Benson Torres is no longer lobbying on behalf of an Israeli settlement development company concerned about an undisclosed US criminal case. Kasowitz registered as a foreign agent for Naftali David Ehrenfreund, the chairman of Kiryat Sefer Ltd., in August 2020. The firm terminated its registration on Feb. 23 after seeking information from the FBI and other sources regarding “a legal matter that [Ehrenfreund] was concerned about in the United States,” including a “review of court pleadings involved in that concluded legal case [and] research of various criminal offenses involved and statutes of limitations.” The firm also held “conversations with the Assistant United States Attorney who had handled the legal case in court.” After receiving a response to a request for information from the FBI on Jan. 10, Ehrenfreund concluded that he no longer needed the firm’s assistance. Kasowitz has disclosed getting paid $31,000 for the work.

Ehrenfreund’s company developed parts of the Haredi Israeli settlement of Modiin Illit, located midway between Jerusalem and Tel Aviv in the West Bank. The United Nations has declared settlements built on Palestinian lands occupied after the 1967 war to be illegal under international law, a claim disputed by Israel and the United States. Kasowitz has strong connections to Israel, and used to count Donald Trump bankruptcy lawyer turned US Ambassador to Israel David Friedman as a partner. Attorney Claire Nardi Riddle, the former chief of staff to ex-Sen. Joseph Lieberman (I-Conn.), was registered on the account along with Miami-based attorney Ann St. Peter-Griffth and New York-based attorney Matthew Greenburg.

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