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Sikh separatists pause US lobbying; Qatar lobbyist scores meeting with US Gulf fleet commander; Iowa PR firm adds two on Saudi account

Sikh separatists pause US lobbying to focus on independence referendum

Gurpatwant Singh Pannun

Sikhs for Justice, a New York-based nonprofit banned in India because of its support for Punjab’s secession, has paused its US lobbying as it temporarily refocuses its North American advocacy efforts. Democratic government affairs firm Blue Star Strategies terminated its lobbying registration on behalf of the group on May 31, according to a new lobbying filing. CEO Karen Tramontano registered as a lobbyist for the group effective Feb. 1, 2021, and contacted the House of Representatives and the Department of Justice to “raise awareness in U.S. of treatment of Sikh community in India.” She disclosed receiving less than $5,000 in each of the first two quarters of the year. Previously, former Rep. Robert Livingston (R-La.) and his former chief of staff J. Allen Martin briefly lobbied on behalf of Sikhs for Justice last year regarding the “intimidation and harassment of US citizens of Sikh ethnicity” by Indian authorities. The Livingston Group disclosed getting paid $10,000 between Feb. 12 and the registration’s termination just 17 days later.

The group’s founder, New York-based lawyer Gurpatwant Singh Pannun, told Foreign Lobby Report that Blue Star helped get the word out about his group’s effort to oversee a non-binding referendum on independence in Punjab and around the world. Also on the agenda was India’s successful effort to get social media companies including Facebook and Twitter to ban his group, which Pannun argued violates the rights of its Indian-Americans supporters. As for Livingston, Pannun said the firm helped organize a meeting last year with White House officials ahead of President Donald Trump‘s visit to India to meet with Prime Minister Narenda Modi.

Pannun told Foreign Lobby Report that his group’s US lobbying is on hiatus as the group spends its money and resources on organizing a referendum in Canada this summer on Punjab’s secession from India. Voting is expected to take place later in the United States as well as in Europe. Pannun insisted that Punjabis inside India would also get to vote, despite opposition from the Indian government. Armed with the results of the referendum, Pannun said the group hopes to restart its lobbying in 2022 with an eye toward building support in the United States and around the world for the Sikhs’ right to self-determination. “For us, voting is most important right now,” he said. “Once we come back, we will definitely be looking into hiring bigger guns than what we hired before.”

The group is massively outgunned in the influence sphere by the Indian government, which has five lobbying firms on its payroll: BGR Government Affairs, The Williams Group, Ferox Strategies, Cornerstone Government Affairs and Cornerstone subcontractor DiNino Associates. The Indian government banned Sikhs for Justice in 2019 and designated Pannun a terrorist last year for promoting secessionism in his bid to create an independent Khalistan. The Indian government has also reportedly asked the US Department of Justice for assistance regarding the group’s advocacy, including its support for the massive farmer protests that have partly paralyzed the country for months.

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New lobbying filings

Africa

Democratic Republic of the Congo: We’ve updated our story from Monday about Congolese businessman-politician’s Moise Katumbi‘s US lobbying relaunch with a look at past influence campaigns on his behalf.

Lobbying and PR on behalf of Moise Katumbi

Firm
Principal
Dates
Payment
King & Spalding
Moise Katumbi
Effective June 3, 2021
€40,000 ($48,500)
per month
Akin Gump
Moise Katumbi
April 2016 – March 2020
$1.09 million
DCI Group
Moise Katumbi
(via Akin Gump)
April 2016 – Dec. 2019
$490,000
(from Akin Gump)
RMG Africa Advisors
Moise Katumbi
(via Akin Gump)
Sept. 2017 – Dec. 2017
$45,000
(from Akin Gump)
Blueprint Communications
Moise Katumbi
(via Gabara Strategies)
July 2017 – Sept. 2017
$42,500
(from Gabara Strategies)
Brownstein Hyatt
Moise Katumbi
(via Blueprint Communications)
July 2017 – Sept. 2017
$40,000
(from Blueprint Communications)
Akin Gump
Martin Fayulu
(as part of Katumbi contract)
Dec. 2018 – Feb. 2019
N/A
DCI Group
Martin Fayulu
(via Akin Gump)
Dec. 2018 – Feb. 2019
N/A
Ballard Partners
Group of Seven
Oct. 2017 – May 2019
$600,000
George Denison /
Herman Cohen
Coalition for a Free
Democratic Congo
Aug. 2015 – present
(currently inactive)
$360,000
Source: Foreign Agents Registration Act (FARA), Lobbying Disclosure Act (LDA)

You can check out the updated story here.

Americas

Haiti: It’s not every day that a lobbying firm latches on to a newspaper editorial calling their client an “inept autocrat,” yet here we are. Former Rep. Joe Garcia (D-Fla.), a Mercury Public Affairs lobbyist for the office of Haitian President Jovenel Moise, shared the offending June 13 Washington Post editorial with opinion editor Nancy Ancrum of the Miami Herald. Haiti took issue with Ancrum’s May 29 editorial that the US should listen to voices in the Haitian diaspora and step in to oppose Moise’s plans for a constitutional referendum this summer. The Post, despite its criticism of Moise, by contrast argues that calls to delay elections and for the president to step down in favor of a transitional government would only make things worse.

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Asia

China (iFLYTEK): Chartwell Strategy Group has registered client staff assistant Grayson Midkiff as a foreign agent for partially state-owned Chinese voice recognition company iFLYTEK. Chartwell is a subcontractor account to Pillsbury Winthrop Shaw Pittman on the account and is paid $50,000 to $100,000 a month. The Chinese company was added to the Commerce Department “entity list” restricting US technology exports to the company in May 2019 and is accused of human rights abuses against the Uyghurs in Xinjiang.

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Europe

Georgia: Chartwell Strategy Group has registered client staff assistant Grayson Midkiff as a foreign agent on its $65,000-per-month account with the government of Georgia. The engagement, which dates to Feb. 2018, explicitly calls for increasing US security assistance and foreign direct investment. The Caucasus country fought a war with its Russian neighbor in 2008.

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Middle East

Qatar: Qatar’s Ministry of Defense paid a top retired US Navy officer a third of a million dollars to “advance defense goals” including a meeting with the commander of the US Fifth fleet, according to a new lobbying disclosure. Vice-Adm. John “Fozzie” Miller, himself a former commander of the Bahrain-based fleet, met with Adm. Samuel Paparo on March 11 and followed up with an April 30 phone call to discuss “naval activities” (Paparo has since been named commander of the US Pacific Fleet). Miller and his Virginia-based Fozzie Miller Group were paid a total of $335,000 for the work, including $260,000 for “technical and strategic defense advisory services” before the lobbying contract began in March. The contract, originally slated to last one year, was terminated June 14.

Miller told Foreign Lobby Report he had a “general discussion about maritime security” with Paparo that highlighted Qatar’s role as an “important member of the combined maritime force” in the Gulf region. He said Doha had good access to the Fifth Fleet but that he was retained to discuss a “specific subject,” which he declined to share. “I’m not really at liberty to talk about what I talked about on behalf of the Qataris, and that’s why they hired me in the first place — because I don’t talk about it,” Miller said. He said this would likely be the last lobbying engagement for his national-security advisory firm.

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Saudi Arabia: The Iowa-based Larson Shannahan Slifka Group (LS2 Group) has registered account coordinator Michael Ciabatti and account associate Ashley Phipps as foreign agents for Saudi Arabia. The Saudi embassy hired LS2 in November 2019 for $126,500 per month to help with outreach to the US heartland amid bipartisan criticism of Riyadh in Washington.

The firm has since hired a bevy of consultants and subcontractors across the United States (see Foreign Lobby Report map below).

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