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Ex-Rep. Roskam of Sidley Austin represents Vietnam in currency dispute; Venezuela oil lobbyists continued to rake in millions after US turned Citgo over to the opposition; Saudi Human Rights Commission renews with Qorvis: Thursday’s daily digest

Venezuela oil lobbyists continued to rake in millions after US turned Citgo over to the opposition

Many of the same firms that lobbied for Venezuela’s national oil company on behalf of socialist President Nicolas Maduro continued to make a killing after the Donald Trump administration switched control of its US operations over to the opposition, newly disclosed lobbying documents show.

Before Trump recognized Juan Guaido as the legitimate leader of the country in January 2019, the US subsidiary of Venezuela’s state-owned oil and gas company Petroleos de Venezuela (PDVSA) and its Houston refiner Citgo spent more than $20 million successfully lobbying theUS administration not to sanction Citgo. Lobbying firms on the campaign included Avenue Strategies, a firm co-founded by Trump’s first campaign manager, Corey Lewandowski and senior 2016 campaign adviser Barry Bennett, and Democratic strategist Manuel Ortiz‘s firm VantageKnight.

Now a batch of new filings with the US Department of Justice under the Foreign Agents Registration Act (FARA) reveal new details about the shift in lobbying focus since Citgo changed hands — and which firms benefited.

Read the story here.


New lobbying filings

Asia

Hong Kong: The Hong Kong Trade Development Council in New York paid Virginia-based Jacobs Global Trade & Compliance $195,000 in the six months through April to provide legal advice and lobby on trade-related matters. The council hired the firm in April 2019 amid rising US-China tensions, adding to a stable of lobbying firms including Venable (since 2009), Akin Gump (since 2012), Legislative Strategies (since 2015) and BGR Government Affairs (since April 2019). Consultant Alice Slayton Clark‘s foreign agent registration on the account was terminated on March 31.

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Vietnam: Vietnam’s central bank has hired Chicago-based Sidley Austin to provide legal counsel “in connection with the review of its currency valuation practices under applicable US law,” according to a new registration with the US Justice Department. Former Rep. Peter Roskam (R-Ill.), a partner with the firm who served as chairman of the House Ways and Means tax panel, is expected to work on the account along with Government Strategies group leader Michael Borden and Andrew Shoyer, the co-leader of the firm’s Global Arbitration, Trade and Advocacy practice. The firm reports to To Huy Vu, the director general of the State Bank of Vietnam’s International Cooperation Department. Other details of the contract, including its duration and payment terms, are redacted.

The contract was signed April 21. It comes as the Donald Trump administration labeled Vietnam a currency manipulator for the first time in December 2020, requiring the country to enter into negotiations with the US government and the International Monetary Fund to address the situation. The designation followed the opening of an investigation in October into whether Vietnam had undervalued its currency amid surging exports to the US as companies relocated their factories there from China. In the first semi-annual foreign exchange report issued under Secretary Janet Yellen, the Treasury Department last month reversed course and lifted the manipulator designation for at least six months as negotiations continue. In a statement, Vietnam’s foreign ministry welcomed the decision and said that “Vietnam will maintain dialogues and consultancy with the US over this issue,” Reuters reported.

Middle East

Libya: Mercury Public Affairs distributed a fact sheet about Libya on behalf of the country’s new Government of National Unity (GNU) under Prime Minister Abdul Hamid Dabaiba. The provisional government is aimed at unifying rival power centers in Tripoli and the eastern city of Tobrouk ahead of elections planned for December. The fact sheet outlines Dabaiba’s objectives to stabilize the country, including:

  • Reunifying the country and its sovereign institutions;
  • Advancing the full implementation of the ceasefire agreement, Security Sector Reform (SSR) and Disarmament Demobilization and Reintegration (DDR);
  • Delivering basic services to Libyans based on a decentralized system;
  • Addressing the COVID-19 pandemic;
  • Reforming the Libyan banking sector;
  • Fostering human rights-based inclusive national reconciliation and transitional justice; and
  • Advancing women’s political and economic empowerment.

The fact sheet also calls on the international community to assist the country on its road to recovery from years of conflict. This includes:

  • Increasing diplomatic pressure on any actors continuing to maintain an illegal military presence in the country, including Russia’s mercenary Wagner Group;
  • Threatening sanctions against those seeking to destabilize Libya or impede its democratic transition;
  • Demonstrating vocal support for the GNU;
  • Continuing to support the UN process;
  • Building stronger trade and bilateral agreements with Libya; and
  • Helping provide capacity building expertise and exchanging best practice to help rebuild Libyan institutions and infrastructure.

Mercury was hired by Libya’s new government March 30 as a subcontractor for Mercury International UK on a month-to-month basis. Rep. Toby Moffett (D-Conn.) has recently registered to lobby on the account along with Katie Gregory and Deirdre Stach. Mercury also represented the GNU’s predecessor, the Government of National Accord, with 11 other employees still registered as foreign agents on that account: Ex-Sen. David Vitter (R-La.), Morris ReidThomas Jock McMillanTimothy SculthorpeSuheyla TaylaJohn TomlinMolly ToomeyBenjamin Westlake-Tritton and Asma Yousef.

Saudi Arabia: The Saudi government’s Human Rights Commission has renewed its contract with Qorvis Communications for 13 months beginning March 1. The Human Rights Commission will pay the public relations firm $57,500 per month, the same amount as last year’s initial contract, for “media training, strategic communications, media relations, editorial services, outreach, and research (including polling).” The contract also calls for the commission to pay $60,000 to build and support a web site for the commission, for a total of $807,500.

The Human Rights Commission came under fire in 2019 when its leader at the time, Bandar bin Mohammed al-Aiban, called the murder of journalist Jamal Khashoggi an “unfortunate accident” at a UN Human Rights Council meeting. The commission opposed an international investigation of Khashoggi’s death, claiming such an investigation would undermine Saudi Arabia’s judicial system.

Saudi Arabia: Qorvis Communications received $492,500 from the Saudi government-funded Muslim World League for various public relations services in the six months through April. The firm developed content for social media, prepared press materials and coordinated media outreach. The firm also added five people to its account with Muslim World League: Qorvis vice presidents Jennifer Baskerville and Maria Jose Abad, account executive Eleanor Kohli and interns Anna Tarnawska and Jordan Culpepper. Assistant account executive Sophia Mestas‘ registration has been terminated.


New business lobbying

Canada: Blank Rome Government Relations of Washington has registered to lobby on legislative and regulatory railroad issues for Canadian National Railway, a freight railway based in Montreal that serves Canada and the Midwestern and Southern US. Lobbying on the account are Black Rome senior adviser Mike Legg, a former director of operations on the House Committee on Transportation and Infrastructure; David Thompson, a senior policy adviser to former Speaker of the House Dennis Hastert (R-Ill.),; Katie Kachel; and Donald Norden.


Caught our eye

Uganda: The US diaspora wing of Uganda’s National Unity Platform party is hosting a protest Friday against human rights violations in the country. The protest will begin at the Washington offices of Mercury Public Affairs, which just registered to lobby for recently re-elected Ugandan President Yoweri Museveni, and will end near the US Capitol.

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