Latest filings

Ex-Rep. Royce lobbies for Saudi Arabia; Lanny Davis’ firm defends Venezuela’s Citgo against creditors; Ukraine veterans sign $960,000 deal for US outreach

Welcome to Foreign Lobby Report’s biweekly roundup of all the latest lobbying developments. Every week we go through dozens of filings under the Foreign Agents Registration Act (FARA) and the Lobbying Disclosure Act (LDA) to offer our readers the most comprehensive snapshot anywhere of the foreign governments, political groups and businesses trying to influence US policymaking and public opinion.

Please send tips, comments and suggestions to [email protected] And make sure to follow us on Twitter @foreign_lobby and @JulianPecquet for all the latest foreign lobbying news.


New lobbying filings

Africa

Zimbabwe: Mercury Public Affairs is helping Zimbabwe’s new envoy to the United States reach out to Capitol Hill amid signs that Congress is beginning to rethink sanctions first imposed under the late President Robert Mugabe, according to a new lobbying filing. Ambassador Tadeous Tafirenyika Chifamba, who took office last month, wrote to at least one unidentified senator on Aug. 9 to seek a meeting.

“I am informed that the US Congress is currently considering, with the aim of reviewing, the effectiveness or non-effectiveness and impact of sanctions toward Africa,” the ambassador wrote. “This re-evaluation on the way the
United States approaches sanctions on African countries is a subject very close to Zimbabwe’s interests.” The sanctions, Chifamba wrote, has caused “ordinary Zimbabwean citizens” to endure “hardships” even as the country under President Emmerson Mnangagwa has made “significant strides” with “both economic and political reforms on the
path to democratization.” The request follows a May 25 hearing of the House Foreign Affairs Committee’s Africa panel on the impact of sanctions on Africa.

Mercury has lobbied for sanctions removal for the Ministry of Foreign Affairs and International Trade since September 2019 via its London affiliate Mercury International UK. The contract was renewed this year for 12 months starting May 1. The firm disclosed $813,000 in fees and expenses from Zimbabwe last year. Former Sen. David Vitter (R-La.) and former Rep. Toby Moffett (D-Conn.), respectively a partner and co-chairman in Mercury’s Washington office, are among those lobbying on the account.

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Americas

Mexico: Austin attorney Steve Shadowen of class action law firm Hilliard Shadowen has formally registered as a foreign agent of the Mexican government in the country’s lawsuit against US gun manufacturers and distributors over what Mexico claims are negligent and illegal commercial practices that have fueled the deadly violence south of the border. The suit, believed to be the first time a sovereign state sues gunmakers, was filed earlier this month in US federal court in Boston. Shadowen, a civil rights attorney with nearly a decade representing families of Mexicans killed by US border patrol agents, is the lead lawyer in the case, which is expected to involve at least 20 lawyers including counsel from the Brady Campaign to Prevent Gun Violence.

“I will represent the Government of Mexico in the above-captioned litigation and will participate in related activities in which litigation counsel in major commercial litigation in the U.S. customarily engage,” Shadowen wrote in his registration with the US Justice Department, “such as participating in press conferences and briefings, giving press interviews, participating in academic and other symposia, and the like.” Defendants in the case include Smith & Wesson, Colt, Beretta and Glock. Mexico has stringent gun control laws and is seeking financial compensation and tighter controls in the US.

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Panama: Edelman has registered account executives Jack O’Shea in Washington, DC and Luis Felipe Betancourt Silva in Florida on its public relations campaign on behalf of the government of Panama. The Chicago-based PR firm signed a $1.275 million contract in September 2020 with the United Nations Development Programme (UNDP), the world body’s global development network, to raise Panama’s profile in the United States, United Kingdom and European Union.

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Venezuela: Washington law firm Davis Goldberg & Galper, has registered as a foreign agent for Venezuela’s state-owned oil and gas company Petroleos de Venezuela (PDVSA) and its Houston refiner Citgo in their intensifying feud with Venezuela’s creditors. The firm co-founded by political operative Lanny Davis signed a $40,000-per-month contract with Citgo in March for “legal advice and services.” The firm amended the agreement on Aug. 19 to also provide legal counsel to Citgo with respect to “educating U.S. stakeholders” including “strategic communications efforts such as drafting communications and messaging and outreach to U.S. media.” Newly registered under the Foreign Agents Registration Act (FARA) are partner Adam Goldberg and advisers Madeleine Proctor and Simone Jackenthal, both of whom work for Trident DMG, the PR firm founded by Davis, Goldberg and Josh Galper.

A US judge in January approved the sale of shares in Citgo’s parent company to pay Canadian gold miner Crystallex a $1.4 billion judgment for expropriation of its assets, and dozens of other individuals and companies also have pending claims against Citgo’s parent company in the US, PDV Holding Inc. The US Treasury Department has so far blocked the sale of shares because unwinding Citgo, Venezuela’s most valuable asset abroad, would be a huge blow to opposition leader Juan Guaido, to whom the Donald Trump administration transferred control of Citgo.

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Asia

Afghanistan: The executive director of the US nonprofit Afghanistan-U.S. Democratic Peace and Prosperity Council laid out the group’s lobbying priorities following the US withdrawal from the country in an op-ed for The Bulwark. The Joe Biden administration, Martin Rahmani wrote, should “grant blanket amnesty to Afghans wanting to come to the United States” and “demand the international community not only fail to recognize the Taliban, but destroy the U.S.-provided weapons it stole and sanction it out of existence.” The op-ed was distributed by veteran Republican operative Joe Pounder‘s Bullpen Strategy Group, one of four firms lobbying for the council. The council is funded by Afghan businessman Mohammad Gul Raoufi. Three Afghan lawmakers sit on its board of advisers: Mir Haider AfzalyNaheed Farid and Haji Ajmal Rahmani.

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Bangladesh: BGR Government Affairs has registered principal Mark Tavlarides, a former director of legislative affairs for President Bill Clinton‘s National Security Council, on its account with the Embassy of Bangladesh. BGR has represented the embassy since 2013 and is paid $25,000 per month.

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Malaysia: The Malaysian Palm Oil Council has hired Washington lobbying firm the DCI Group to provide “public policy counsel … in support of its efforts to improve the labor and human rights policies and practices of Malaysia.” The $25,000-per-month contract runs from Aug. 17 through July 31, 2022. Palm oil is a major export for Malaysia, which has come under over allegations of forced labor. The Donald Trump administration halted imports from two major Malaysian palm oil producers last year after finding them responsible for forced labor abuses. The council is controlled and funded by Malaysia’s Ministry of Plantation Industries and Commodities.

Europe

Ukraine: The Republican-led firm that has been leading the Ukrainian gas industry’s lobbying fight against Russia’s Nord Stream 2 pipeline to Germany has picked up a non-profit group founded by Ukrainian veterans. Yorktown Solutions signed a 12-month, $80,000-per-month contract ($960,000 total) with the Civil Movement For a Just Ukraine (Hromadska Orhanizatsiia Rukh Spravedlyva Ukrayina) starting Aug. 17. The firm is expected to provide government and public affairs services to help “promote de-oligarchization and reform processes in Ukraine; advance the image of
Ukraine and its official institutions; and foster greater engagement” with US stakeholders. Yorktown’s registration under the Foreign Agents Registration Act (FARA) says the movement is pushing to rein in the country’s politically connected oligarchs, tackle judicial and security reforms and improve corporate governance.

The movement was founded by 2014 Ukrainian revolution activists Olekssi Sereduiuk, who leads the union representing soldiers and volunteers at the Ukrainian Ministry of Internal Affairs, and Vitali Chorny, a member of the All-Ukrainian Union of veterans of the war against pro-Russian separatists in the east. Its director is Victor Shvetsov, a former military commander. Registered to lobby on the account are Yorktown President Daniel Vajdich, a former adviser to Sen. Ted Cruz (R-Texas); Vice President Jonathan Gregory; and former Democratic Senate Foreign Relations Committee aide Brittany Beaulieu.

“Yorktown Solutions will work with ‘For a Just Ukraine’ to help American stakeholders better understand the state of the reform process in Ukraine and how they can effectively contribute to its advancement,” Gregory told Foreign Lobby Report in an emailed statement. “Our work entails engaging with stakeholders in both Washington and Kyiv who affect or have the potential to affect reforms in Ukraine, assessing where gaps exist between perception and reality, and bridging those gaps to the benefit of Ukrainian society and the US-Ukraine partnership.” 

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Middle East

Iraq: Imad Khamis, a professor of mathematics at Kansas State University in Manhattan, Kansas, has registered his new political party the Iraqi Nationalist Opposition Front under the Foreign Agents Registration Act. The party aims to advocate for “security and prosperity” and a “free society” in Iraq.

Israel: David Todd Brown, the chairman of Chicago law firm Much Shelist and national campaign chair for Jewish Federations of North America, has registered as a pro bono foreign agent of the Israeli government for a March 10 article he wrote for the Chicago Law Bulletin entitled “Will the International Criminal Court be an obstacle to peace in Middle East?”. Brown writes that the court’s assertion of jurisdiction on the Israeli-Palestinian conflict is problematic because of the Palestinians’ strategy to “capitalize on the anti-Israel automatic majority in the political organs of the United Nations to internationalize the conflict and hijack judicial processes in pursuit of a political campaign.”

Brown’s point of contact for the registration. which is now terminated, was with Aviv Ezra, the consul general of Israel to the Midwest.

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Saudi Arabia: Add Saudi Arabia to the growing number of foreign clients represented by former House Foreign Affairs Committee Chairman Ed Royce (R-Calif.). Royce, a policy director with Brownstein Hyatt Farber Schreck, will help “facilitate meetings with federal government officials either via phone or email” on behalf of the Saudi Embassy in Washington, according to a new registration under the Foreign Agents Registration Act (FARA). Royce is also registered to lobby for the governments of Egypt and South Korea, the Liberia Maritime Authority and the Liberian International Ship & Corporate Registry, Congolese politician Moise Katumbi and Chinese tech company Tencent, owner of the WeChat messaging app. Brownstein has represented the Saudi Embassy since 2016. The current rate is $125,000 per month.

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Business lobbying

China (Alibaba): Chinese e-commerce and data security company Alibaba has hired Brownstein Hyatt Farber Schreck to lobby on “issues related to intellectual property.” The lobbying registration, which was effective July 1, comes as the company last week launched its marketplace for non-fungible tokens (NFTs) where users can sell and trade their intellectual property through blockchain technology. Veteran US diplomat Samantha Carl-Yoder and former principal associate deputy attorney general William Moschella are registered to lobby on the account. Brownstein joins Greenberg Traurig, Mercury Public Affairs and Holland & Knight in actively lobbying for Alibaba.

China (BYD Motors): The US subsidiary of Chinese electric vehicle maker BYD has registered an in-house lobbying arm. Frank Girardot, a spokesman for the Los Angeles-based company, will lobby on “issues related to electric vehicle manufacturing, bus procurement, and transportation infrastructure.” Also lobbying for the company are Crossroads Strategies, Cline Strategic ConsultingCapitol City Group and Capitol Counsel.

One of the biggest electric bus makers in the US, BYD is fighting anti-China legislation that could prevent it from accessing billions of dollars in federal funding to green the nation’s bus fleet.

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Dominican Republic (Banco Multiple Activo Dominicana): A Dominican bank that is majority-owned by US citizen Luis Gaspirini has retained Washington lobbying firm Scribe Strategies & Advisors to help “arrange meetings, briefings, and other relevant documentation for members of Congress and the Biden Administration.” The registration with the Foreign Agents Registration Act (FARA) seeks US assistance in helping “BMAD to secure authorization to manage the bank” given reports of “numerous systemic problems” by foreign investors and “the lack of clear and standardized rules for which to participate in the economy.” Scribe founder Joseph Szlavik and senior associate Alexander Beckles, a former legislative director to former Rep. Edolphus Towns (D-N.Y.), are registered on the account.

Caught our eye

Foreign agents and lobbyists spent more than $33.5 million in individual political contributions during the 2020 election, Anna Massoglia reports over at the Center for Responsive Politics.

Matthew Graves, President Joe Biden‘s nominee to serve as U.S. Attorney for the District of Columbia and head the prosecution of the Capitol Hill rioters, did legal work for nearly a dozen foreign clients including Qatar, the Qatar Foundation, Al Jazeera and Russia’s Gazprom while at DLA Piper, according to his financial disclosure (h/t @aaronjschaffer).

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