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Kazakh oligarch hires Trump-connected lobbyist; Erdogan’s ‘secret-keeper’ ends US lobbying; lobbyist drops Saudi entity mentioned in Khashoggi report: Tuesday’s Daily Digest

Kazakh oligarch tied to sanctioned Israeli mining magnate retains Trump-connected lobbyist

Alexander Mashkewitch addresses the St. Petersburg International Economic Forum in 2016

A business partner of the Israeli billionaire who received a controversial sanctions reprieve for his African mining operations at the tail end of the Donald Trump administration has retained his own lobbying firm with close ties to the former president.

Alexander Mashkevitch, an Israeli-Kazakh citizen who made a fortune from the privatization of the natural resources industry in post-Soviet Kazakhstan, has signed Sonoran Policy Group to “provide strategic advisory services and interactions with the United States Government related to business and travel.” The six-month contract, which began Feb. 21, is pro bono.

While the exact nature of the lobbying is unclear, it comes as Mashkevitch has been in the news recently for his association with Dan Gertler, an Israeli mining magnate who was sanctioned by the United States in 2017 for his alleged role in contributing to corruption in the Democratic Republic of the Congo.

Erdogan’s ‘secret-keeper’ ends US lobbying

Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan attends MP Mucahit Arslan’s wedding in 2018.

Former Donald Trump 2016 campaign adviser Barry Bennett terminated his lobbying on behalf of Turkish lawmaker Ali Ihsan Arslan on Dec. 31, according to a new lobbying filing. Arslan, who is better known as Mucahit Arslan, has long served as one of President Recep Tayyip Erdogan‘s backchannels to Washington and is known as the Turkish leader’s “secret-keeper.” Bennett’s firm, Avenue Strategies, agreed in October to help introduce Arslan pro bono to various policymakers amid deteriorating US-Turkey relations marked by US sanctions against Turkish officials and Ankara’s expulsion from the F-35 fighter jet program.

According to the filing, Bennett sent two dozen emails to Senate staffers between late October and mid-November and placed a half-dozen phone calls to the offices of then-Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) and Senate Armed Services Committee member Roger Wicker (R-Miss.). These include four failed attempts to reach McConnell’s national security adviser (and former assistant secretary of Defense for international security affairs) Robert Karem, suggesting Capitol Hill wasn’t particularly receptive. Arlsan was the last foreign client for Avenue Strategies. Launched in the first year of the Trump administration, the firm briefly represented the governments of Qatar and Zimbabwe as well as politicians in Ukraine and the Democratic Republic of the Congo.

Trump 2016 adviser lobbies for Erdogan’s ‘secret-keeper’
Turkey lobbies to get back in F-35 program

New lobbying filings


Mauritius: McLarty Inbound has extended its $35,000-per-month contract with the Embassy of Mauritius through the first half of the year. The firm founded by former US ambassador to Germany Richard Burt was hired in 2019 to “assist Mauritius in its efforts to exercise its sovereignty over the Chagos Archipelago and having such sovereignty recognized by the UK and US.” The group of 60 strategically located tropical islands in the Indian Ocean is controlled by the United Kingdom and includes the US Navy base at Diego Garcia, which the United States has leased from Britain since 1966. The United Nation’s special international maritime court found in favor of Mauritius’ claim over the archipelago last month. The government of Mauritius has promised to let US troops remain at Diego Garcia on a long-term lease if it takes over control of the islands. Burt is registered to lobby on the contract along with McLarty senior adviser Frances Burwell.

Ex-US ambassador lobbies UK to decolonize Diego Garcia


Canada: TC Energy Corporation, the Calgary-based company building the Keystone XL pipeline, hired Ricchetti Incorporated effective Jan. 15, just days before President Joe Biden took office and yanked the permit for the pipeline, according to a new lobbying filing. The firm is owned by Jeff Ricchetti, who is the brother of Biden’s White House counselor Steve Ricchetti.

Canada province braces for fight with Biden over Keystone Pipeline


Thailand: The Office of Commercial Affairs at the Thai Embassy in Washington has renewed its contract with veteran US trade official Elena Bryan and her firm Pilot Rock Global Strategies through September. The contract is for $5,500 per month, the same as previously. The embassy hired the firm in April 2020 to lobby Congress and the Donald Trump administration after the US enacted tariffs against Thai products over labor rights concerns in the country. The extended contract states that Pilot Rock will continue to help Thailand mend trade relations with the US so that it may regain its Generalized System of Preferences (GSP) eligibility. The firm is also assisting Thailand in leading the Alliance of GSP Countries, a 27-nation alliance of developing countries that benefit from duty-free market access to the US.

Thailand hires USTR veteran to undo Trump tariff hit


Germany: Paul Christoph Schemionek took over from Daniel Andrich as CEO and president of the office of the Representative of German Industry and Trade (RGIT) in Washington on Oct. 1, according to a new lobbying filing. The office received $755,000 during the period from the Federation of German Industries and the Association of German Chambers of Commerce and Industry and held calls with officials at the Commerce Department, the US embassy in Berlin and the Office of the US Trade Representative to discuss the US business climate for German companies and trans-Atlantic trade relations.

Middle East

Saudi Arabia: Squire Patton Boggs has ended senior associate Ludmilla Kasulke‘s registration on behalf of a Saudi government entity mentioned in the US intelligence assessment of Jamal Khashoggi‘s murder. The firm has represented the Center for Studies and Media Affairs at the Saudi Royal Court since 2016 and disclosed $391,000 in payments for that work in 2020. Spokesman Angelo Kakolyris said the firm hadn’t conducted lobbying work for the center since 2017. “The account being dormant is the reason for the deregistration,” he said.

According to the US intelligence report released Friday, several members of the 15-member team accused of killing Khashoggi at the Saudi consulate in Istanbul “worked for, or were associated with” the center, which at the time was led by Saudi al-Qahtani, a close adviser of Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman (Qahtani was one of 17 Saudi officials the Donald Trump administration sanctioned for human rights violations in November 2018).

Screenshot from US intelligence report

Kasulke had been registered to lobby for the center since 2016. Partner Edward Newberry and Bret Boyles, the  co-chair of the firm’s Strategic Advocacy Public Policy Practice, remain on the account. Kasulke is still registered as a foreign agent for the South Korean Embassy in Washington, the government of Kosovo and the High Negotiations Committee of the Syrian Opposition.

Release of Khashoggi report sparks new push to punish Saudi crown prince

Syria: The US representative of the Kurdish-dominated Syrian Democratic Council disclosed several meetings with US officials in the six months through January to discuss US policy in Syria and sanctions targeting the Bashar al-Assad regime. Sinam Sherkany Mohamed notably met with :

  • Deputy Assistant Secretary of State for Levant Affairs and Special Envoy for Syria Joel Rayburn;
  • Then-director of the Defeat-ISIS task force at the Pentagon, Chris Maier;
  • State Department official David Brownstein;
  • State Department human rights officials Stephen Gillen and Stephen Dryer; and
  • Colin Brooks and Naz Durakoglu, respectively congressional staffers for the Senate Foreign Relations Committee and for committee member Jeanne Shaheen (D-N.H.).

The office reports getting between $8,000 and $10,000 from grassroots supporters and spending about $7,200 a month on office expenses. The SDC hired lobbyist Ayal Frank and his firm AF International last summer for $6,000 per month but those payments are not listed on the US office’s disclosure form.

Syrian Kurds hire their first Washington lobbyist to help take on Turkey