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Burmese junta, Qatar dominate $6 million in new foreign influence contracts for March; leaked email sheds light on lobbying against UN Palestinian refugee agency; Arizona PR firm registers for Saudi embassy: Monday’s Daily Digest

Burmese junta, Qatar dominate $6 million in new foreign influence contracts for March

Lobbying and public relations firms disclosed more than $6 million in new contracts with foreign principals last month, according to a Foreign Lobby Report review of Department of Justice filings, the most since Americans elected a new president in November.

The new business was dominated by Canadian lobbyist Ari Ben-Menashe‘s $2 million contract with Myanmar’s military junta, which was first revealed by this site on March 5.

Meanwhile the government of Qatar signed three new contracts worth a combined $1.5 million as the emirate continues to increase its lobbying firepower as it pursues regional policies that are starkly at odds of other US allies and partners including Israel, Egypt, Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates.

Rounding out the top three lobbying contracts, the Indigenous People of Biafra (IPOB), which advocates for independence for Nigeria’s predominantly Christian southeast, signed a $750,000 contract to draw attention to human rights abuses in Africa’s most populous country.

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Leaked email sheds light on lobbying against UN Palestinian refugee agency

Palestinians receive food aid from an UNRWA distribution center in the Khan Younis camp for Palestinian refugees in the Gaza Strip, on Oct. 15, 2020 / Abed Rahim Khatib via Shutterstock

Foreign Lobby Report has obtained emails to Congress that show that Edward Kimball and his Maryland firm EJK was reaching out to congressional staff as early as March 5 to raise concerns about President Joe Biden‘s plans to restore funding for the UN agency for Palestinian refugees, UNRWA. EJK registered as a lobbyist for a US-based organization affiliated with UNRWA critic David Bedein of the Jerusalem-based Nahum Bedein Center for Near East Policy Research effective March 22, we first reported last week. Kimball did not respond to a query about the apparent timing discrepancy. The State Department announced last week it was resuming $150 million in US aid to UNRWA that the Donald Trump administration had been holding up since August 2018.

The leaked email (see below) also offers several new details about Kimball’s lobbying focus. It indicates that Israeli journalist Arnon Groiss and Lt. Col. (ret.) Jonathan Halevi were slated to join Bedein in a March 17 briefing for congressional staff. And it suggests that Congress look to restrict funding for UNRWA until the agency meets several conditions including:

  • “Removal of the UNRWA ‘war curriculum'”
  • “Dismissal of employees affiliated with terror groups such as PFLP (Popular Front for the Liberation of Palestine) & Hamas”; and
  • “Launch an effort to help refugees move into better conditions after 72 years in ‘temporary’ refugee camps.”

UNRWA denies accusations that it incites Palestinian children against the Israeli state. US law already requires the State Department to report on whether UNRWA is following a set of guidelines, including “taking steps to ensure the content of all educational materials currently taught in UNRWA-administered schools and summer camps is consistent with the values of human rights, dignity, and tolerance and does not induce incitement.” But some pro-Israel groups — including Bedein’s — are calling for further reforms, including paring down the definition of Palestinian refugees to only the surviving Palestinians who were displaced at the formation of Israel in 1948 instead of the current count of 5.3 million, most of whom are descendants of the original refugees.

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New lobbying filings

Africa

Lesotho: Ryberg & Smith has terminated its registration on behalf of the Lesotho Textile Exporters Association as of March 31. Founding partner Paul Ryberg, the president of the African Coalition for Trade, had lobbied for the association regarding the African Growth and Opportunity Act (AGOA) and other matters since 2010.

Tanzania: Human rights advocate Jeffrey Smith and his Vanguard Africa reached out to media, congressional staff and the US State Department on behalf of Tanzanian opposition leader Tundu Lissu in the six months through March. Vanguard Africa signed up pro bono to represent Lissu and “advocate for a more democratic Tanzania” in Feb. 2019. In the most recent period, Smith notably reached out to John Tomaszewski, who leads Africa policy for Senate Foreign Relations Committee (SFRC) ranking member Jim Risch (R-Idaho), and Heather Flynn, a senior SRFC staffer. He also contacted several employees at the US State Department, including Tanzania Desk officer Sarah Van Horne, Deputy Assistant Secretary for East Africa and the Sudans Makila James, office of Southern African Affairs Director Stefanie Amadeo and office of East African Affairs Deputy Director Satrajit Sardar.

Lissu ran for president as a member of the opposition CHADEMA in last fall’s general election, placing second to the incumbent John Magufuli. Both Tanzanian and international officials have denounced heavy censorship and voter repression in the campaign.

Uganda: Vanguard Africa also disclosed lobbying activity in the six months through March as part of its pro bono contract with Ugandan singer and opposition politician Bobi Wine. The consultancy firm’s founder Jeffrey Smith discussed Uganda’s January general elections with then-House Foreign Affairs Committee staffer (now State Department Africa bureau specialist) Taylor Redick, senior Senate Foreign Relations Committee staffer Heather Flynn and State Department officer Christina Droggitis.

Wine lost a fiercely contested presidential election to long-time Ugandan ruler Yoweri Museveni in January. Wine has since been confined to his house in Kampala as his supporters and other opposition politicians have been abducted and tortured by the government, his party claims. In response to the repression, Smith has conducted outreach to US media about human rights issues in Uganda and Wine’s request to the International Criminal Court to investigate them. Listen to our Feb. 4 interview with Smith on our Foreign Lobby Report / LEVICK podcast:

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Americas

Guyana: Lobbyists for Guyana’s defeated APNU + AFC Coalition are stepping up their lobbying to make sure the former ruling party remains connected in Washington. JJ&B shared a statement last week from the office of opposition leader Joseph Harmon with congressional leaders and key members of the foreign affairs committees in the House and Senate following Harmon’s meeting with US Ambassador to Guyana Sarah Ann Lynch. According to the statement, Harmon discussed the “discriminatory practices” of the ruling Progressive People’s Party (PPP) including “the arbitrary firing of public servants, the distribution of COVID-19 cash grants, politically motivated charges and the arbitrary arrests of persons perceived to be Coalition supporters.” He also requested the establishment of regular communications between Washington and the opposition, asking Lynch to make his party aware of any major changes in US policy towards Guyana.

The APNU + AFC Coalition hired JJ&B last year to help convince the US government and international community that incumbent President David Granger had won re-election in the impoverished but oil-rich Latin American country. The firm has stayed on even after Granger conceded defeat to the PPP’s  Irfaan Ali. The PPP for its part has hired a trio of lobbyists with The Cormac Group who represented the party in Washington during last year’s dispute.

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Asia

Hong Kong: Washington firm BGR Government Affairs has belatedly disclosed a contract with the Hong Kong Trade Development Council from March 2020. The firm has been lobbying Congress and the Joe Biden administration on economic and trade issues including US-China trade relations, US implementation of World Trade Organization agreements and other relevant trade legislation. BGR has represented the council since April 2019, with firm principal Mark Tavlarides and director Chris Simeone registered on the account. The $360,000 contract was recently renewed in March for another year.

India: The embassy of India in Washington has renewed its contract with BGR Government Affairs for six months starting April 1. The contract is worth $300,000, less than the previous renewal‘s $350,000. BGR has represented the embassy since 2001, providing “strategic counsel, tactical planning and public relations assistance on policy matters before the US Government, the US Congress, and select state governments, as well as academic institutions and think tanks.” The contract renewal was signed by Indian Ambassador to the US Taranjit Singh Sandhu and BGR founding partner Ed Rogers, who is registered to lobby on the account.

South Korea: The South Korean embassy in Washington has hired BGR Government Affairs for a short-term research project into US politics. The contract is for the 45 days starting April 8 and is worth $86,500. BGR principal Frank Ahrens, a former Washington Post journalist and vice president of global corporate communications for Hyundai, will lead the team. BGR has provided public relations and communications work for the embassy since 2018, and recently renewed its contract for $162,000 for the first half of 2021.

Middle East

Morocco: Morocco lobbying firm Neale Creek shared multiple emails and calls with Rachel Smith-Levy, a political adviser to the US mission to the United Nations, in the months before and after President Donald Trump recognized US sovereignty over the disputed Western Sahara in December, according to a lobbying filing for the six months through March. The firm also lobbied members of the House and Senate Appropriations committees, which handle foreign aid to Morocco, including in the Western Sahara. A subcontractor of Republican lobbying firm JPC Strategies on the Morocco account, Neale Creek terminated its registration on Jan. 27 after Rabat dropped JPC following President Joe Biden‘s election.

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Qatar: Washington public relations firm Proof Strategies has registered senior manager Robert Butcher-Nesbitt and senior account director Adrian Gianforti on its $71,000-per-month contract with the Embassy of Qatar. They join general manager & senior vice president Mara Mein Carter, director of strategy Chris Burright and senior account director Henri Vies. Proof Strategies has advised and assisted the embassy with its public communications and helped monitor media coverage since May 2020.

Saudi Arabia: Arizona public affairs consultant Kyle Moyer has registered his firm Kyle Moyer & Company of Scottsdale as a foreign agent for the Saudi Embassy in Washington. The firm signed a $7,500-a-month contract, renewable on a month-to-month basis, with Iowa PR firm Larson Shannahan Slifka Group (LS2 Group) on April 1 to “promote good relations between the United States and the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia by disseminating information to the public, government officials and the media.” Moyer had previously been registered as a consultant for the LS2 Group since December 2020. The Saudi embassy hired the LS2 Group in November 2019 for $126,500 per month to reach out directly to the US heartland in a bid to deepen political and economic ties across the country amid lingering bipartisan criticism in Washington.

Meanwhile LS2 Group consultant Emily Bir of Michigan has disclosed emailing the director of International Trade at the Michigan Economic Development Corporation, Alyssa Tracey, Saudi press coverage of the launch of Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman‘s Shareek initiative. The initiative reportedly aims to strengthen collaboration between the government and the private sector, with the goal of enabling $1.33 trillion in private investments by 2030.

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Turkey: Lobbyists for the Turkey-US Business Council (TAIK) are promoting US companies’ “major role” in Turkey’s green energy sector, notably in solar, wind and geothermal energy, renewable fuels and electric vehicles. TAIK lobbying firm Mercury Public Affairs has been distributing informational materials on how the two countries are “building a green economy together.”

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New business lobbying

Germany: Mayer Brown has hired Mercury Public Affairs to lobby on behalf of German gun maker Mauser. Former Rep, Toby Moffett (D-Conn.) will lobby on “Approving Visa applications for Mauser engineers in Spain seeking to come to the US.” The lobbying registration was effective Feb. 1.

Japan: Nintendo of America has hired NVG effective March 23 to lobby on “issues related to video game consoles and video game publishing.” Joshua Hurvitz, a legislative director for former Rep. Anthony Wiener (D-N.Y.), is registered on the account along with Eden Shiferaw. This is the video game giant’s only current lobbying contract.

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