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.
Sonoran, which has recently renamed itself Stryk Global Diplomacy, was founded by Robert Stryk, an Oregon wine maker who parlayed his work as an unpaid West Coast adviser to Trump’s 2016 campaign into a lucrative foreign lobbying business. He and CEO Christian Bourge are registered to lobby on the account.
Neither Stryk nor Bourge responded to requests for comment about the nature of their lobbying.
But 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 the corruption of the Democratic Republic of the Congo. The Trump administration lifted the sanctions in its final days in office after a years-long lobbying campaign by Freeh Sporkin & Sullivan, including by Trump’s personal lawyer Alan Dershowitz and former FBI director Louis Freeh.
The move has sparked a backlash by human rights activists and some former Trump administration officials. Treasury Secretary Janet Yellen‘s office is reviewing the sanctions roll-back and the Joe Biden administration is seen as likely to reimpose the sanctions against Gertler, Bloomberg reported last month.
Mashkevitch, a major Jewish philanthropist and the inaugural president of the Euro-Asian Jewish Congress, is a part-owner of Eurasian Bank in Kazakhstan and one of three founders of the London-based Eurasian Natural Resources Corporation (ENRC). The mining company is involved in operations in the Democratic Republic of the Congo.
The United Kingdom’s Serious Fraud Office has been investigating ENRC since 2013 for “alleged corruption in its deals in Congo, including several where Gertler acted as an intermediary acquiring assets from Congo’s state-owned mining companies before ERG bought them at a higher price within months,” according to Bloomberg. Meanwhile London-based advocacy group Global Witness recently published a new report with the Platform to Protect Whistleblowers in Africa that alleges the ENRC, now operating out of Luxembourg as the Eurasian Resources Group (ERG), was involved in a transaction with DR Congo’s state mining company Gecamines and Gertler that undermined US sanctions.
“Gertler cannot be allowed to carry on doing business with US companies and accessing funds held in the US while huge question marks hang over his business practices and while his former business partners are still under investigation in the US and the UK for corrupt mining deals in DRC,” Margot Mollat du Jourdin, a campaigner at Global Witness, said in a statement.
Last year Gecamines Chairman Albert Yuma Mulindi hired his own lobbying firm for help getting a visa to visit the United States as corruption concerns about Congolese mining make it harder for officials and business people associated with the industry to get visas even when they’re not under any sanctions themselves.
Dinissa Duvanova, an associate professor at Lehigh University and an expert on business-state relations in post-Soviet countries, told Foreign Lobby Report that Mashkevitch’s lobbying could also be related to the declining influence of former Kazakh President Nursultan Nazarbayev, under whom he thrived for years.
“Mashkevitch might be required to ‘give back’ to the country that for decades allowed him to skim its resources,” Duvanova said. “His lobbying might concentrate on putting international pressure on Kazakh authorities.”