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Former Dem lawmakers lobby for Canadian rail; Mercury taps Washington director for Uganda account; Burisma lobby shop has deep Ukraine ties


Dem firm under investigation for Burisma lobbying has other Ukraine ties

Democratic consulting firm Blue Star Strategies is being investigated by the Department of Justice for its unregistered work on behalf of Ukrainian energy company Burisma, Politico reported this week. While the Burisma work has captured Washington’s attention because of that company’s payments to President Joe Biden‘s son Hunter Biden, the firm founded by former Bill Clinton aides Karen Tramontano and Sally Painter has a deep history with Ukraine.

In 2015 the firm assisted the Glover Park Group in efforts to secure expanded US assistance for Ukraine amid its war with Russia-backed separatists in the eastern part of the country. Painter lobbied the State Department for “US funding for Ukraine humanitarian aid” that fall, according to lobbying filings.

Two years later, Blue Star was hired to increase the profile within the US government of the National Interest of Ukrainedescribed in lobbying filings as an non-governmental organization “promoting rule of law and civil rights.”

And earlier this year, the firm registered to lobby for Calgary-based TIU Canada Ukraine Holdco Ltd. The company is suing a ferroalloy plant owned by billionaire Ukrainian oligarch Igor Kolomoisky over accusations that the plant is trying to shake down TIU by disconnecting one of its solar power plants from the electricity grid.

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New lobbying filings

Africa

Liberia: The head of the US company that manages Liberia’s ship registry met twice with Acting Deputy Assistant Secretary of State for International Security and Nonproliferation Gonzalo Suarez in the past six months, according to a new lobbying filing. Liberian International Ship & Corporate Registry (LISCR) co-chairman Elan Cohen discussed the registry’s “ongoing efforts to combat sanctionable trade” and its working relationship with the Liberian government during the March 19 and April 29 meetings with Suarez. The LISCR has been registered as a foreign agent of the Liberian government since 2002 and disclosed $59,000 in funding in the past six months.

The registry in turn hired Brownstein Hyatt Farber Schreck on a year-long, $120,000 contract in Feb. 2020. Former House Foreign Affairs Committee Chairman Ed Royce (R-Calif.) and veteran diplomat Samantha Carl-Yoder are registered to lobby on the contract along with Sean Callahan.

Liberia is the world’s second most popular “flag of convenience”, behind only Panama, allowing more than 3,700 foreign-owned ships to register under its flag. The country has long battled what it calls the “outdated” reputation for poor safety records and tax dodging associated with the flag of convenience term.

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Uganda: Mercury Public Affairs has registered Robert Leverett Smith (bio), a managing director in its Washington office, on its account with the government of Uganda. Smith, a legislative aide to former Reps. Joel Hefley (R-Colo.) and Wes Watkins (R-Okla.), joins Morris Reid, a senior aide in the Bill Clinton administration, and former British diplomat George Tucker on the account. Deirdre Stach, a senior vice president in the firm’s Washington office, was de-registered from the account last month amid intense pushback from opposition advocates. Mercury has signed a month-to-month contract with London-based Mercury International UK Ltd. to represent President Yoweri Museveni‘s government amid a backlash over January’s presidential election.

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Americas

Argentina: Los Angeles-based Myriad International Marketing worked on a four-month, $219,000 public relations and social media campaign earlier this year to promote tourism and increase U.S. visitors to Argentina, according to a new disclosure under the Foreign Agents Registration Act (FARA). The contract was with South American travel PR consulting group the Interamerican Network on behalf of Inprotur, Argentina’s national institute for tourism promotion. It ran from Jan. 27 to May 31.

Argentina / Ecuador: White shoe law firm Arnold & Porter has registered policy specialist Grace Bendik as a foreign agent for the governments of Argentina and Ecuador. This is her first registration under the Foreign Agents Registration Act (FARA). Arnold & Porter signed a $1.932 million contract with Argentina’s Ministry of International Trade and Foreign Investment in May 2020 for help with a massive debt restructuring and other economic issues, including the elimination of tariffs on biodiesel exports imposed under the Donald Trump administration. And shortly after President Joe Biden‘s victory in November, the firm signed a $900,000 agreement with Ecuador’s Ministry of Production, Foreign Trade, Investments and Fisheries to help negotiate a free trade deal.

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El Salvador: Arnold & Porter has registered attorney Kevin O’Neill (bio), the chairman of the firm’s legislative practice group and a longtime Republican fundraiser, on its account with the government of El Salvador. The Central American country hired the firm on a year-long, $1.2 million contract in late March as the country looks to negotiate a $1.3 billion deal with the International Monetary Fund (IMF) following an electoral sweep by President Nayib Bukele‘s party. O’Neill also lobbies for the governments of Argentina, Ecuador, South Korea and the Federated States of Micronesia.

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Venezuela: Lobbying and public relations firms continue to disclose past work on behalf of Venezuela’s national oil company. New York public relations firm the High Lantern Group is the latest to register as a foreign agent for past communications work for the CITGO Petroleum Corporation, the Houston refiner controlled by the ad hoc board of Petroleos de Venezuela, S.A. (PDVSA). The firm disclosed $500,000 in payments from the company between September 2019 and April 2020, after the Donald Trump administration switched control of PDVSA’s US operations over to the opposition. Registered on the account are Managing Partner Robert Gluck, Chief Editorial Officer Kevin Stach and Charles McGinnis.

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Asia

Kazakhstan: Greenberg Traurig lobbyists held several meetings with House Foreign Affairs Europe and Eurasia senior adviser Phillip Bednarczyk and staffers for Sen. Tom Cotton (R-Ark.) and Reps. Steve Chabot (R-Ohio) and Brendan Boyle (D-Penn.) on behalf of the government of Kazakhstan in the six months through April. Chabot is a member of the House Foreign Affairs Committee and co-chairman of the US-Kazakhstan Caucus.

The Kazakh Ministry of Justice hired the firm in May 2018 for $2 million through the end of the year for “advice and counsel related to foreign relations issues.” The contract was renewed in 2019 for $500,000, then extended for another year in January 2020 for $850,000. Five other firms are registered as foreign agents for the ministry:

  • APCO Worldwide (through Herbert Smith Freehills);
  • Latham & Watkins and its subcontractor Mercury Public Affairs; and
  • RJI Capital Corporation and its subcontractor Hutton-Transcon Joint Venture.

Meanwhile BGR Government Affairs represents the Kazakh Embassy in Washington.

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South Korea: Farragut Partners has terminated its registration as a foreign agent for the Korea Atomic Energy Research Institute (KAERI) effective April 1, 2020, according to a belated lobbyign filing. The Global America Business Institute, the Washington-based sister institute of the Korean American Business Institute in Seoul, paid the Washington government relations firm $30,000 last year to try to find out why a publicized memorandum of understanding between KAERI and the Department of Energy to speed up the deployment of advanced nuclear technologies was not successful. The filing hints at opposition from US nuclear power company Westinghouse.

Source: Foreign Agents Registration Act (FARA)

South Korea: The Korea Trade Investment Promotion Agency (KOTRA) has registered five new employees at locations across the country:

Middle East

United Arab Emirates: John Gilliland, a former aide to then-Sen. Blanche Lincoln (R-Ark.), helped distribute a report calling for Al Jazeera to register as a foreign agent of Qatar to a half-dozen House Democrats last summer, according to a belated lobbying filing. Gilliland’s firm Gilliland & McKinney International Counsellors registered as a subcontractor to Akin Gump on behalf of the embassy of the United Arab Emirates in 2019 and disclosed just under $20,000 from Akin Gump in 2020. The report was prepared by former House Foreign Affairs Committee Chairwoman Ileana Ros-Lehtinen (R-Fla.), now a senior adviser at Akin Gump. The Donald Trump required Al Jazeera to register its AJ+ online news channel as a foreign agent in September but the company has yet to comply.

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Business lobbying

Canada (Canadian National Railway): Former Reps. Ron Klink (D-Penn.) and Jim Moran (D-Va.) are lobbying for Canadian National Railway as the Montreal-based freight railway seeks US approval for its $30 billion merger with Kansas City Southern. Joining them on the Nelson Mullins Riley & Scarborough contract are former US ambassador to Canada David Wilkins, federal and state policy team leader Chris Cushing and policy adviser Justin Meyers. Nelson Mullins joins Norton Rose Fulbright on the rail account. Former New York Gov. George Pataki, a senior counsel at the firm, is lobbying on the account along with Norton Rose partner Samuel Ramer.

The merger would create the first freight-rail network linking the United States, Canada and Mexico by connecting ports in the three countries. But it faces concerns from rail users including the American Chemistry Council, a trade association, about decreased competitition, the Transport Topics news site reports. If the US Surface Transportation Board does not approve of the merger, Kansas City Southern could be sold to Canadian National Railway rival Canadian Pacific.

France (Kayrros): The US affiliate of French data analytics company Kayrros has hired the S-3 Group “to educate on Kayrros, a geospatial platform that leverages satellites to provide global, real-time and granular measurement to better understand the energy market and related infrastructure developments.”


Media wars

Hungary: A new piece in the Canada-based, English-language Hungarian Free Press draws attention to the Ohio-based Clevelandi Magyarokért Foundation and its news site, which publishes right-wing Hungarian authors sharply critical of President Joe Biden and sympathetic to Russia. Public records show the foundation has received public funding from the government of Prime Minister Viktor Orban, raising questions as to whether it should have to register under the Foreign Agents Registration Act (FARA). The foundation says it does not use Hungarian government money for its portal.

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