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Qatar nabs former Biden, Meeks aides in fifth lobbying hire since election; Menendez chief of staff joins BGR; Korean province hires PR help to restore tourism to North: Thursday’s Daily Digest

Qatar nabs former Biden, Meeks aides in fifth lobbying hire since election

Qatari Emir Sheikh Tamim bin Hamad Al Thani attends a visit from Ukrainian President Petro Poroshenko in Doha, Qatar on March 20, 2018 / Shutterstock

Qatar has hired a pair of former aides to President Joe Biden and House Foreign Affairs Committee Chairman Gregory Meeks (D-N.Y.) as the Gulf emirate adds a fifth firm to its lobbying stable since the November election.

The Embassy of Qatar in Washington has signed a $40,000-per-month contract with Empire Consulting Group through January 2023, according to a new filing with the US Department of Justice. The firm will lobby Congress and the executive branch on “federal policy matters of importance to the embassy,” according to a contract signed by the embassy’s security attache, Brig. Gen. Mohamed Abdulaziz Al Nassr.

Registered to lobby on the contract are Empire Consulting founder and managing partner Mike McKay and consultant Eulice Brandon Garrett. McKay spent a decade as a top foreign policy adviser for Meeks before leaving Congress for the lobbying world in 2007. Garrett for his part served as Biden’s policy adviser during President Barack Obama‘s 2012 re-election campaign and has years of congressional experience, including as policy director for the Congressional Black Caucus and most recently as chief of staff for Rep. Robin Kelly (D-Ill.) until his departure in 2016.

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Fred Turner, the chief of staff to Senate Foreign Relations Committee Chairman Robert Menendez (D-N.J.) and a quarter-century veteran of Capitol Hill, will join the BGR Group in mid-April, the firm announced in a press release. Turner will serve as senior vice president in the firm’s international affairs practice, which represents the governments of Azerbaijan, Bahrain, Bangladesh, Honduras, India, Kazakhstan and Venezuela as well as the Kurdistan Regional Government and the Hong Kong Trade Development Council (the firm’s public relations practice also represents South Korea). Turner is barred from lobbying his former Senate colleagues during a one-year “cooling off” period but has ties to both the Joe Biden administration and the House, where he previously served as chief of staff to Rep. Alcee Hastings (D-Fla.). He is also expected to support clients in the firm’s financial services and commerce practices.

“As chairman of the Senate Foreign Relations committee, and a senior member of both the Senate Finance and Banking committees, I have benefited immensely from Fred’s policy expertise and political acumen in every facet of my operation,” Menendez said in a statement for BGR. “He has been at my side for many years, and at the end of the day, he is a trusted voice of reason and ultimately policy and electoral success. I have no doubt that Fred will continue to be that valuable voice to his new colleagues, and to me, in the months and years ahead.”

New lobbying filings


Human rights: Amnesty International USA has hired Sonia Lin, the former deputy commissioner and general counsel for New York Mayor Bill de Blasio‘s Office of Immigrant Affairs, to lobby on the Dignity for Detained Immigrants Act, the Shut Down Family Detention Act and other legislation addressing immigration detention. Cardozo is now an adjunct professor with the Cardozo School of Law in New York. The registration was effective Feb. 16.

Cayman Islands: The Cayman Islands has hired Holland & Knight to help set up a government office in Washington. The firm’s contract with the Ministry of International Trade, Investment, Aviation & Maritime Affairs of the self-governing British Overseas Territory includes assistance with establishing the office and the legal structures to function in North America; evaluation and advice regarding tax and other similar implications for hiring three Caymanian staff to work in the office; assistance with negotiation of a contract for facilities in Washington; and additional corporate and legal services as needed when the office is fully functioning. The firm will be paid hourly rates. Three people are registered as foreign agents on the account: International Trade Practice head Ronald Oleynik and partners James Oscar Davis and Christine Shiker. Per the contract, Shiker will handle “preliminary regulatory issues” while acquisition of property for the office will be handled by partner Rob Boyd, with partner Leon Fresco assisting with immigration work and partner Kara Ariail will assist with employment issues.


South Korea: South Korea’s Gangwon Province has hired Washington PR firm West Wing Writers to assist in drafting an op-ed on “peace in the Korean peninsula” for US audiences. The agreement, dated March 24, is for $10,600 and last four weeks. The three-term governor of the northeastern province bordering North Korea, Choi Moon-soon, has long called for the resumption of cross-border tourism, including to the revered site of Mount Kumgang, which ended in 2008 after North Korean guards shot a tourist dead.

“Partners of South Korea, including some US officials, have also voiced concerns and opposed tourist sites like Mt. Kumgang, claiming they undermine United Nations sanctions against the North,” Choi wrote in a op-ed last summer. “However, international law allows revenue from individual tourists to flow into the North, so this should not present an obstacle. Sanctions must and can be safeguarded under any agreement regarding Mt. Kumgang.”

West Wing is staffed by veterans of the Bill Clinton and Barack Obama administrations and led by managing partner Vinca Lafleur, a longtime Democratic speechwriter. The firm’s point of contact on the account is Nadia Cho, the CEO of Jeong Culture and Communication in New York, who serves as a liaison between Korean government agencies and US chefs.

South Korea hires former lawmakers Royce, Begich amid tensions with US over China, N. Korea

Middle East

Saudi Arabia: Mercury Public Affairs has registered to lobby for a relative of Saudi Arabia’s former ambassador to the United States, Prince Turki bin Faisal bin Abdulaziz Al Saud. The firm has signed a contract with Mercury International UK to provide “lobbying, strategic consulting, and public relations services within the US” for Abdullah Dhari Al Jarba. The contract runs from March 22 until April 30 and will automatically renew every month unless terminated. Mercury will be paid “fees and compensation as agreed to by the parties based on usage of the services.” The firm disclosed that it had already received $58,000 last month from MTG of DE, LLC for “non-registrable services performed entirely outside of the US.” Mercury did not respond to a request for comment about the identity of that company or the nature of its lobbying for Al Jarba. While Al Jarba is not a government official, Mercury wrote in its filing that it had registered under the Foreign Agents Registration Act (FARA) because he is a family member of Prince Turki, who is founder and trustee of the King Faisal Foundation among other connections to the royal family.

Caught our eye

Rwanda: A US academic and star prosecution witness in the Rwandan government’s ongoing trial against Paul Rusesabagina of “Hotel Rwanda” fame was once a paid foreign agent for Kigali. Michelle Martin, a social work professor who worked with Rusesabagina’s foundation a decade ago, signed a year-long, $5,000-a-month contract with President Paul Kagame‘s government in 2012 to track and report on alleged genocide denial in the Rwandan diaspora. Taking the stand on Wednesday, she accused Rusesabagina of diverting foundation funds to arm Rwandan rebels seeking to overthrow Kagame, the western-backed leader who has been in power for more than two decades, while acknowledging that her past work for Kagame’s government could “impact my credibility.” Rusesabagina has been charged with terrorism and other crimes for his role helping to form the National Liberation Front, which Rwandan authorities blame for a series of deadly attacks in recent years.

Ukraine: US officials tell Radio Free Europe / Radio Liberty that New York-based Diplomatic Trade Ltd. is playing no role in Ukrainian Vice Prime Minister Oleg Urusky‘s upcoming visit to the United States, which is being handled by the US Embassy in Kyiv. Diplomatic Trade registered as a foreign agent for Urusky earlier this month, telling the Department of Justice that it had been retained to provide “pro bono commercial lobby support” for Urusky. The firm’s leader, Benjamin Ballout, told Foreign Lobby Report at the time that he was hired to arrange meetings with Elon Musk‘s Space X, which is in talks with Ukraine to launch its Sich 2-1 satellite into orbit by the end of the year. “Ballout is just the latest US-registered lobbyist for Ukraine in recent years to spark intrigue,” writes RFE/RL. Click here to read the outlet’s investigation, which has sparked legal threats from Ballout.